By Jisha Krishnan

Published on Feb 7, 2017

A new year holds renewed promise and the opportunity for some crystal gazing. So, here’s look at the trends that will shape Indian healthcare in 2017.

Investment wise

Experts believe that 2017 will see an influx of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the healthcare sector. Between April 2000 and March 2016, the hospital and diagnostic centres attracted FDI worth US$ 3.59 billion, according to the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion. There’s an investment opportunity of US$ 25-30 billion, say studies, in terms of India’s requirement for six to seven lakh additional hospital beds over the next couple of years. And everyone – US, UK, Malaysia, Dubai – seems to want a piece of this pie!

Tech edge

Artificial intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT) have made their way into medicine. These are exciting times when robots (not just in the operation theatre), 3D printers (to enhance the replacement of organs and tissues) and precision medicine (based on the patient’s genetic profile) rule the roost. Mobile technology, of course, is here to stay. 2017 will see a step forward in the hi-tech evolution of not only how hospitals function (online appointments, electronic health records, disease management), but also in terms of diagnostics and clinical treatment options.

For the less equal

Despite constituting about 70 per cent of the total population, healthcare innovations and even basic care, for that matter, continue to elude rural India. 2017 has the potential to be the game changer. Big players are finally sensing the business prospects of telemedicine. Cisco, a US-based multinational company, has collaborated with Bengaluru-based Narayana Health to put its ‘virtual expertise digital solution’ to good use. If everything goes as per plan, affordable specialty healthcare will soon become a reality for those living beyond the big cities. The government’s ‘Digital India’ drive has already started an initiative called Sehat (Social Endeavour for Health and Telemedicine) to provide a common platform for healthcare access to rural citizens.

Old, but relevant

An increasing number of people today are wary about the overuse of antibiotics and over-the-counter drugs. It’s not surprising then that there are many takers for the 3,598 hospitals and 25,723 dispensaries across the country that offer AYUSH (ayurveda, yoga & naturopathy, unani, siddha and homoeopathy) treatment. Incidentally, the Union Cabinet is all set to sign an agreement with the World Health Organization (WHO) under which the latter will develop technical documents on traditional medicines. 2017 could very well be the year when Indian systems of medicine get global recognition.

Left to their own devices

The one thing that’s seldom ‘Made in India’ is medical devices. We still import more than 75 per cent of the total consumption. And unless the government creates a separate medical devices sector, not much will change in terms of investment and R&D in the segment. Similarly, in the pharmaceutical industry as blockbuster drugs become a rare phenomenon, companies will have to look for other ways to stay in the competition. 2017 will see more players venturing into the bioelectronics space.

Startup summary

This one is a work in progress. Last year, we witnessed the growing popularity of wearable devices. What’s not to love about a watch that keeps tabs on the calories you burn, the number of steps you take, the distance you walk in a day? Experts predict that 2017 will see our digital companion get smarter. It’ll no longer be just about fitness tracking, but will evolve into a management device for just about everything, from everyday stress to chronic diseases.

Mind matters

More than two years ago, the government had announced its ambitious mental health policy. However, miniscule funding (less than one per cent of the health budget), severe shortage of mental health professionals (6000 psychiatrists for a population of 1.3 billion), and regressive social attitude have ensured that the ground realities haven’t changed much.

That said, 2016 was a watershed year. For the first time, we heard Indian celebrities discuss their tryst with clinical depression. Also, a mainstream Hindi movie dealt with the subject in a strikingly realistic manner. Perhaps this year will keep up the momentum.