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How Tech Start-Ups Are Transforming The Treatment Of Chronic Health Issues

26/05/2016 8:12 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:27 AM IST
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Stethoscope and digital tablet

Chronic diseases are a huge and growing problem in India -- 20% of the adult population in the country has at least one chronic condition, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and/or hypertension. According to the WHO, 50% of lives lost in India (data from 2004) could be attributed to chronic diseases. This is tragic. But there is a bigger tragedy hidden in plain sight -- the majority of mortalities associated with chronic conditions could have been avoided through better management.

So, why is it hard to manage chronic diseases? It is because they demand lifestyle changes, regular medication, doctor visits and managing symptoms among the patients. In addition, the doctors who treat chronic conditions also tend to patients with non-chronic issues -- using a pretty similar approach for both.

Start-ups that make wearables and tracking devices are helping patients track their sleep, physical activity levels, heart rate, blood pressure and pulse.

It is in this context that the solutions built by healthcare tech start-ups are beginning to make a difference in chronic care settings.

1. Hardware and devices

Start-ups that make wearables and tracking devices are helping people understand their lifestyle through data. These start-ups are helping patients track their sleep, physical activity levels, heart rate, blood pressure and pulse. Further, there are companies building affordable and easy-to-use point-of-care diagnostic hardware for measuring health parameters such as blood glucose levels. The convenience and affordability of such devices is enabling patients to check their health parameters more frequently, thereby establishing an unmistakable trend about their health.

2. Software platforms to enable care

The data generated by devices will be meaningless if they are not reviewed by a doctor who can help. For instance, diabetes is mostly a data problem. The medication dose for the patient is adjusted based on blood sugar values. And the patient's response to medication depends on lifestyle, diet and exercise. Most of this is measurable today. By using the right platform and analytics it is now possible to personalize insulin doses and/or anti-diabetic medications for each patient. This dramatically improves the care outcomes. The start-ups in this category are making doctors more effective as practitioners can make better care interventions based on data rather than only "experience".

The start-ups in [the software category] are making doctors more effective as practitioners can make better care interventions based on data rather than only "experience".

It is not just start-ups, but also large, established companies that are pouring significant resources into building solutions to help manage chronic problems. Google, in 2014, built a contact lens that measures glucose levels in tears. When this comes into production, people can check their blood sugar levels without having to prick themselves with a needle!

Hence, a combination approach of device and software platforms can offer a new way of life for patients. I am sure we will very soon be in a position to manage chronic conditions effectively, thereby lowering mortalities stemming from mismanagement.

There is no doubt that healthcare tech holds out tremendous hope in chronic care.

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Photographs by Nemai Ghosh

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