4 smart tech-based solutions to unique healthcare challenges in India and Japan

Takeaways from the Philips Digital Health Conclave 2019

Unique challenges require unique solutions, and recent advancements in digital healthcare capabilities are increasingly enabling healthcare companies and providers to create tailored solutions to various issues that are specific to particular localities and populations in an efficient and cost-effective manner.

A number of such solutions were on display at this year’s Philips Digital Health Conclave. What we found most compelling was how several companies and governments are increasingly relying on advanced, tailored technologies to solve unique, localized healthcare challenges; below, we will highlight some discussions revolving around the vastly different issues faced by India and Japan.



Challenge: Excessive Hospital Beds and an Aging Population

Japan’s population of nearly 130 million is uniquely overserved in terms of hospital bed availability; in 2016, the country was host to over 12 beds for each 1000 individuals, whereas that ratio is at least halved in virtually all developed countries. Moreover, Japan’s population is rapidly aging as birth rates slowdown; as a result, an expanding proportion of the country’s population is requiring extensive healthcare support well into their later years.

This has highlighted operational inefficiencies and led to expanding healthcare costs, especially because the gradual shrinking of the working-age population reduces the tax returns collected by the Japanese government, ultimately limiting the availability of funds to support the country’s healthcare budget.

Consequently, the Japanese government has been attempting, with some degree of success, to reduce costs, partly by decreasing the number of hospital beds across the country over recent years. It has done so largely by encouraging hospital consolidation and implementing home care setups for elderly in order to improve operational efficiency and subsequently increase profitability. That said, much work is still needed to adequately address the issues facing Japan’s healthcare system.

Solution: Telemedicine/Mobile Healthcare and Innovation Hubs

The Japanese government has also been collaborating with medtech and healthcare companies to further support its efforts. For example, the government has been working with Philips to explore the concept of home-based healthcare in order to improve the provision of healthcare for the elderly. Under this concept, medical staff will be able to use a mobile clinic—connected via 5G internet to the hospital—to visit a patient’s home when the need arises, allowing the patient to avoid having to travel to the hospital. The very first commercial use of such a mobile clinic is expected to take place in Japan in November.

In addition, other forms of mobile healthcare solutions are also being developed under this project. These include partially autonomous vans that are equipped to provide diagnostic and consulting services without direct human intervention, sell wellness and prescription products, and mobile clinics with physicians to perform certain outpatient interventions (such as cardiac catheterization procedures). Not only will this help in supporting home-based healthcare for the elderly, but it will also increase healthcare accessibility in more remote areas of the country.

Another interesting Japanese solution is the establishment of “co-creation centers”, which are innovation hubs that integrate insights from academia, clinicians, patients, industrial partners, and policy makers to provide comprehensive and mindful technology-led solutions to complex healthcare problems. For example, Philips—in partnership with Tohoku University Hospital—recently opened such a hub in Sendai in order to explore possible long-term methods to overcome the health-oriented challenges of low birth rates and rapid aging.



Challenge: A Vast Rural Population and Weak Healthcare Infrastructure

In India, the challenges faced by the healthcare system are quite different; the country’s vast rural population and the lack of quality healthcare infrastructure (which is directly related to the number of available physicians) outside of major urban centers renders healthcare services inaccessible and inadequate for a large portion—nearly 70%—of the population.

In addition, the existing facilities and medical equipment are under a substantial amount of stress due to high demand—diagnostic devices, in particular, are regularly overutilized. Moreover, the penetration of Healthcare IT systems in Indian hospitals is very low; most public and private hospitals do not have EHRs, and those that do typically struggle with a lack of integration and consistency between systems of various brands and ages—as a result, most patients do not have properly maintained health history—leading to repeated diagnostics and inefficient medical interventions.

Solution: Telemedicine and Digital technologies

Due to the unique challenges of providing healthcare services in rural areas—such as limited road connectivity, inadequate or nonexistent internet access, and the lack of physician willingness to work in such areas—the government is collaborating with leading healthcare companies to leverage technology in order to improve access to primary and secondary healthcare services. Some examples of technological innovation discussed in the conference are:

Mobile Obstetrics Monitoring

For example, pregnant women in rural India are particularly vulnerable to suffering adverse health complications due to a lack of access to quality care and legitimate information sources. Mobile Obstetrics Monitoring (MOM), a software solution developed in consultation with OBGYNs and operated via a mobile device, represents a unique tech-based solution to this issue; the software enables health workers in community- or primary-care settings to deliver improved antenatal care and enhance overall patient management by utilizing a streamlined interface that assists health workers, such as midwives, in identifying pregnant women’s risk profiles, diagnosing issues such as anemia, and monitoring patients’ progress through easy access to comprehensive health records. This software also allows health workers to enter and save data without internet access, and is capable of generating reports of various conditions or health outcomes at a health facility or on a broader district level.

Ultrasound solutions to better navigate PC-PNDT regulations

Additionally, software-based solutions that allow Indian physicians to cope with challenges that are unique to their country are being designed. For instance, India’s PC-PNDT regulations prohibit prenatal sex determination practices through any radiography/sonography scans. This requires a physician to complete specific documentation ensuring such activity has not been performed; the penalties for violating these regulations or not maintaining appropriate documentation can be quite severe. In response to this challenge, Philips has developed a software tool that can maintain a ledger of all the scans and activities performed automatically. Also, it can partially fill out all necessary forms autonomously; this greatly reduces the concerns of physicians, sonography lab owners, and technicians surrounding documentation maintenance, saving physicians a substantial amount of time.

Compressed SENSE

Also, a new enterprise software technology, Compressed SENSE, which has been found to increase the productivity of MRI scans—the technology enables 2D and 3D scans in less than half the average scan time without any compromise to the image quality has been developed. This allows testing facilities to perform a greater number of scans per day, thereby increasing efficiency and reducing the pressure of overutilization on the system.

The Indian government’s National Digital Health Mission Blueprint has been laid out on July 15, 2019. The proposal is being discussed by various stakeholders which would be followed by implementation of the digital mission. The mission aims to improve the adoption of IT systems, including both HIS and EHR systems, to bolster quality of care. The will help facilitate the development of interoperable EHR standards that will support development of consumer apps, registries, and opportunities to conduct population health analytics studies, which will help in developing holistic data-driven models to improve healthcare provision.

Advanced Tech is the answer to hard healthcare problems

The solutions displayed at the 2019 Philips Digital Health Conclave by healthcare stakeholders in both Japan and India are highly illustrative of how unique and complex challenges can be addressed through collaborative efforts and an understanding of how advanced technologies can play a role in improving healthcare. Many of these solutions could also provide a blueprint for future public-private initiatives for digital and technological breakthroughs in other geographies.

Going forward, medtech companies need to understand specific local problems, understand the related opportunity base, form networks with pure technology companies and governments and curate interdisciplinary solutions and services that not only solve the hard healthcare problems but also generate revenues over long period of time—appropriately incentivizing the initial capital expenditure.