Is Indian Healthcare ready for Big Data and Analytics?


In the ancient times India had family healers that were called upon to combat disease and improve the standards of care. These medicine men of the old not only had knowledge of fields like Ayurveda, Siddha and Unani but also had knowledge of family history that used to help in their diagnosis. After the coming of the British though traditional medicine got supplanted by modern allopathic treatment the role of the family physician continued. So family history and your own medical history was known to these physicians. In a sense we had an efficient system for Big Data and Analytics though it was not system driven. But healthcare till then was the privilege of a few and not easily available to all.

With the breakdown of the joint family system and the mass migration to the cities since independence, we see that the family physicians are hard to come by. While healthcare is more available in the cities, most patients prefer specialists and as a result, the medical history is lost. For example you have an eye irritation so you would go to an ophthalmologist, who would prescribe a few medicines and solve the problem. Subsequently a couple of years later if you have the same eye irritation you might not have saved the previous prescription or scanned it on, to create a digitized copy as a result the new doctor would not know your history. Also each doctor sees so many patients that paper records and memory does not serve the cause.

As a result of this issue, the west has embraced Big Data and Analytics in a big way. In the US for example most hospital systems would have your medical history and even if you switch physicians, your health insurance firm would have your history. In the UK the NHS has health records on all your ailments and also has records on your family history if they lived in the UK. In both these scenarios the adoption of technology has also led to increased investments in areas like Big Data and Analytics. Hospitals are able to predict patterns for re admission for other patients and are able to institute preventive measures to ensure against it. Also use of analytics helps them understand disease patterns n the community and focus on population health initiatives against to improve the health standards of a community.


But in India with technology adoption in the hospitals just at the inception, what is the future for adoption of big data and analytics? To find answers to these questions, a high powered panel met at the Philips Digital Health Conclave in Bangalore to explore if Indian healthcare was ready for big data and analytics. The panel members were Sandeep Singhal, Managing Director Nexus Venture Partners, Unni Nair VP &head of Information Management, Philips, Dr. Ranjan Shetty, Professor & Head, Cardiology Department, KMC- Manipal, Tushar Vashisht Founder, HealthifyMe, Gopal Devanahalli COO Manipal health enterprise.

I had the opportunity to moderate this panel and set the tone by setting the context on big data and analytics and how it impacts the Indian healthcare. We started the discussion by asking each of the panel members on what was their impressions of the adoption of big data and analytics in healthcare.

Dr Shetty kicked things off my discussing how it was very difficult to get any kind of analysis going with the hospital systems today. Paper records take time to be digitized and by the time they can get any analysis going for patient readmission or population health it is almost 6 months. Also Dr Shetty emphasised that while most people felt doctors did not like digital or adopt them faster, the truth is far from it. Interestingly he said improved digital form factors could definitely enhance the adoption of big data among medical professionals.

Sandeep chipped in that most doctors would like to look at the patient while they are writing prescriptions, an art most doctors have perfected over the years, but the same cannot be said about typing into the device. So innovation must come in while deciding the form factor of the devices and systems used in the healthcare set up. Clearly it is up to the UX and design community to help doctors adopt analytics and big data and improve its adoption in Indian healthcare set up.

The discussion took a turn to understand whether we actually needed Big Data and analytics. And the consensus was that we needed it badly, managing a population of this size was not going to be possible without the use of analytics. On Big Data the opinion was split while some panelists felt it was necessary the others felt it was too early to take that call.

Very interesting insights came from Gopal on the adoption of big data and analytics in the Manipal hospitals. He talked about their patient satisfaction surveys which were taken a few days into admission of the patient and if any concerns found were acted upon almost immediately. When the surveys were re-administered, both patients and their party polled higher on satisfaction. So analytics in a way had helped the hospital to respond to feedback real time unlike the traditional model where it would have taken days or even weeks to act upon surveys. He also spoke about the new EMR system that the hospital had developed and which had gone live just last week and in implementing that the hospital chain had clearly demonstrated how important analytics was to healthcare.

Now I have been using HealthfyMe for a while and in my opinion it on one of the best nutrition apps in the country. But behind the app is an analytics engine that has been running thanks to the vision and efforts of Tushar Vashist, a former Wall Street Banker who was also associated with the UID program. HealthifyMe worked with the department of nutrition, government of India to classify more than 10 million Indian food items, that was a mammoth task by itself and a huge Big Data project, but since then they have users creating content and the speed and agility of user created content has been phenomenal.

Also the Indian big data and analytics issues can be divided into two parts, dealing with legacy data and the new age user created data. The two need different systems to deal with.

Unni Nair from Philips spoke about the care continuum and what Philips has been doing in that space, looking at technology from a patient perspective has given those options to partner with organizations to deliver improved care on the backbone of analytics and big data. Incidentally Manipal Health Ventures, Philips Healthcare and HealthifyMe have joined hands to work on a wellness program for the employees.

But the toughest responses came from Sandeep who did not mince his words while describing the scenario today. When a young entrepreneurs from the audience asked him if hospitals should open their healthcare data to entrepreneurs, he wanted to know what these start-ups would do with the data. Simply asking hospitals for the data would not work and there has to be compelling reason for the hospital to do so.

At the end of the discussion we took a poll to understand if Indian healthcare was ready for Big Data and Analytics and the answer was a yes but only narrowly, winning 3-2.

In my opinion I don’t think we are ready in the current form. Yes we need these insights and they have to come from the medical history but the way we are structured I don’t think it will be anytime soon that we would be able to leverage the full benefits of big data and analytics on the Indian healthcare scenario

In conclusion we had some interesting insights

  • Form factor was an important consideration for adoption of Big Data and Analytics by the doctors
  • Analytics was definitely required but on Big data the opinion was split
  • Hospitals had started adoption these technologies on the patient satisfaction front and organizations were coming together to engage on employee wellness initiatives
  • The future of adoption belongs to start ups and how they can think innovatively and introduce new ideas that would use these technologies to improve the care models in India


As always opinions, comments and suggestions are welcome.

Dr. Vikram Venkateswaran

Management Thinker, Marketer, Healthcare Professional Communicator and Ideation exponent

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