Interview

“India can leapfrog into the next stage of healthcare technology revolution”

Dr Satyanarayan Hegde, Medical Director, University of Chicago Medicine, Pediatric Subspecialty

The University of Chicago Center in Delhi invited Dr Satyanarayan Hegde a pediatric pulmonologist for an interactive session on building bridges from ‘Bench to Bedside and Bedside to Bench in Healthcare Delivery’. He spoke to M Neelam Kachhap during his India visit and later about innovations that will solve healthcare problems of the future.

An avid researcher and educator, a lifelong learner and a father Dr Hegde strongly believes in evidence based, cost effective, culturally sensitive and patient centered care.  He currently works for the University of Chicago Medicine and its affiliated hospitals. Dr Hegde overseas pediatric subspeciality operations of University of Chicago Medicine, in his role as Medical Director. A known advocate of “thinking outside the box”, Dr Hegde co-invented patent pending internal airway percussion device that will be useful for clearing mucus plugs in the lungs. He is also the co-founder of healthcare technology start-up Virtual Medical Assistant (VMA) Inc. Upon experiencing collective frustration of electronic health records, Dr Hegde chose to solve the problem of making HER user friendly and truly meaningful by founding the technology company VMA Inc., which is ready to release version 1.0 in early 2018. He shares his thoughts on solving some of the healthcare delivery problems around the world with simple innovations.

  • Give us a perspective on bench-to-bedside and bedside-to-industry in healthcare delivery. What is the current status?

Biomedical scientists used to work in silos for many years. This was impeding the translation of bench-side research (basic science research) to bedside. In the US, this situation is changing. Funding agencies such as National Institutes for Health are encouraging collaborative research between different teams. Physicians can play a key role in leading the efforts of translation of bench to bedside science. They can act as team leaders or anchors to bring together different disciplines to solve important problems.

  • Contrast this with India. Why don’t we see more academicians’ as innovators?

There are two reasons why academicians in India are not innovating. First reason is the education culture and second reason is the misplaced incentive structure for academicians.

The Indian education sector encourages, ‘retain and recall of facts’ as opposed to ‘creative and logistical information’. This culture has to change. In the medical schools and universities, the promotion and salary increment of faculty are linked to the seniority as opposed to productivity. Also in India, either by policy or culture, there is lack of interdisciplinary or interinstitutional collaboration. For example, Bangalore has top research institutions such as Indian Institute of Science and DRDO, multiple medical schools, top business school (IIMB), thriving private sector but there is hardly any collaboration between these institutions. If these institutions were located in a major US city, there would be a ‘research park’ linking all of these institutions. The institutions would have financial stake in the research park, with mechanisms for grant making for collaborative multi-institutional research and training programs for faculties to develop research skills.

  • Would it be difficult for you to innovate in India?

I don’t know at this stage. But I am confident that I can. There is vast pool of talent and enthusiastic younger generation in India. There are great institutions and a thriving startup culture. Certainly, during my recent visit I had productive meetings with academic leaders from Manipal University, St John’s Research Institute, IIMB and some private entrepreneurs. The next step is to build a multidisciplinary and multi-institution team around a research theme to turn at least one idea into a product.

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