This column is authored by Madhu Aravind, CEO, Searchlight Health
There has been a lot of buzz about big data and data analytics in the last few years, but very few organizations have realized its full potential. Some companies that have successfully leveraged its potential are Amazon – using it for personalization & supply chain optimization, Google – using it to power their search, google now, etc. With healthcare, most organizations worldwide are at very early stages of their value realization cycle.
Before discussing healthcare analytics in India, we need to understand the challenges that are present in the Indian healthcare ecosystem. The cost of healthcare in India is increasing at 20% every year, which is more than double that of overall inflation. There is a shortage of 1.5 million doctors and 2 million Hospital beds. With health insurance, only around 5% of the middle class have health coverage, and catastrophic coverage is even lower.
If healthcare analytics needs to have an impact in India, then it has to tackle some of these fundamental issues.
Traditionally, for most organizations data analytics meant purchasing a Business Intelligence tool and creating reports. The impact of such tools was minimal as most healthcare data is both non-standard and unstructured (text, images) and data from multiple sources had to be combined to create value. With the progress made in Natural Language Processing, image recognition and speech analysis combined with the availability of large-scale computing power, the ability to convert this type of information into analysable signals is now within reach. If one can aggregate information from multiple sources and build models that leverage these technologies, then real value creation is possible.
Even with healthcare analytics being at an early stage worldwide, Indian hospitals and insurers have the opportunity to leapfrog the Western world when it comes to truly leveraging its power.
For hospitals, healthcare analytics can impact multiple areas from customer acquisition to operational efficiency to clinical delivery. It can be the backbone of marketing teams to target and retain the right type of customers, help operations teams understand where the hospital truly excels in and where it needs to work on to achieve high-cost efficiencies. Unlike many software products that are essentially just data repositories and workflow managers, data analytics can enable a doctor to create a better outcome for the patient. Traditionally, most medical principles have been based on observations from a few hundred to a thousand people. The advent of digitization, abundant computing power and new age machine learning models, will enable the formulation of principles from observations from millions of people, creating the foundation for personalized medicine.
For insurers, there is a significant opportunity to leverage the power of data analytics to increase the coverage of middle class from the current 5% to 50%. Using the power of data analytics solutions, insurers will be able to understand disease propensity in detail and also fully model the cost of care needed to manage various conditions. This will enable the creation of insurance products that have a range of customizable features catering to the diverse needs of people, from those who need a “Nano policy” to those who need a “BMW policy” based on their preferences!
For the pharmaceutical sector, even though India is currently a generics market, there is immense potential to fundamentally rethink how real world evidence can power R&D, clinical trials, etc.
While data analytics holds a lot of promise, it also faces some challenges in the Indian ecosystem. Firstly, the talent needed in organizations to leverage data analytics is in limited supply. So any analytical solution needs to account for this and have a truly world-class usability for business users and offer shrink-wrapped solutions that demand little by way of deployment efforts. Secondly, most healthcare organizations including hospitals spend less than 1% of their budget on software technologies as they have not seen serious business value generated from such initiatives in the past. This will slowly get reversed as they start seeing tangible value.
As in any nascent industry, adoption will be gradual, beginning with early adopters and then to mass market. But there is no doubt that the field of health data analytics is one whose time has come and will create immense value to the entire ecosystem in the next decade.