Can Kerala's high health and social standards help the state tap the emerging opportunities in the digital healthcare sector in the post-COVID-19 days?
An expert committee of the Kerala State Planning Board thinks so. In a report on the 'Initiatives in Healthcare Industry in Kerala' submitted to the state government last week, the committee argues that Kerala is best suited for providing remote working opportunities for knowledge workers in the lifesciences and IT sector and developing a range of innovative industries in the healthcare space. Medical equipment and connected devices development and manufacturing have been identified as the thrust areas.
The suggestions become significant in the backdrop of the Central government's plan to give a national wide push in digital health. "Kerala's achievements in health and social sectors will provide the springboard for the State's successful entry into a range of innovative industries in the healthcare sector", Jayan Jose Thomas, chairperson of the expert committee and member, State Planning Board says.
According to the report, Kerala's potential for future growth in connected devices arises from its role as an early adopter as well as a developer of such technologies. "The adoption of IT-enabled or connected devices for healthcare is likely to be high in Kerala because of its health conscious population and the relatively widespread use of mobile phone and internet in the State. At the same time, Kerala has well-established strengths in the IT sector. There is potential for the emergence of a number of startups and high tech firms in Kerala, which benefit from the State's strengths in IT and healthcare. Kerala Startup Mission (KSUM) has already devised plans to support startups in the IT, healthcare and related areas", the report points out. "Kerala should devise strategies to nurture entrepreneurs capable of setting up high technology firms in the health sector across the State. Given the critical importance of the medical devices sector on the one hand, and the large dependence in the country now on imported medical devices, Kerala can contribute significantly to the national efforts to build technological and manufacturing capabilities in this sector", it added.
The committee also points out that in the medium to long term, Kerala has the potential to become a leading centre of research and high-end manufacturing in the areas of diagnostics, biotechnology and pharmaceuticals, as well as of medical devices. "In addition to the existence of some leading research institutions and the availability of skilled labour, one of Kerala's key strengths in the above-referred areas is the State's health infrastructure itself. The wide network of hospitals, health professionals and patients (who are educated and health conscious) across Kerala provide an enabling environment, including a rich source of data, for researchers in all fields relating to health", the report says.
The committee has recommended the establishment of life sciences clusters in Thiruvananthapuram, Kochi, Kozhikode and Kannur due to the presence of research institutions, infrastructure and in the case of Kozhikode and Kannur, their relative proximity to Bangalore (as firms in high technology areas considering a shift out of an overcrowded Bangalore may consider setting up their bases in these cities).
In the post-COVID era, Kerala can build on the 'work near home' facilities or co-working spaces offered by the state government in 100 towns across the State to emerge as a preferred wellness and healthcare destination, attracting tourists as well as professionals who choose to remote work from the State, the report says. "Across Kerala, there are numerous towns and villages, which provide safe public places, clean and hygienic living spaces, and modern amenities, including good IT infrastructure. With good planning by local self-governments, these towns and villages could attract not just tourists but also professionals who remote work from Kerala -- including IT workers, creative professionals, researchers, architects, legal professionals, and management analysts", the committee notes.