Dr Linda Maxwell: Engaging with entrepreneurs key to building new-age health care system

Canada-based healthcare professional and innovator, Dr Linda Maxwell, was in Mumbai recently. She was part of a delegation from Canada to engage with Indian innovators and investors alike. Maxwell, who has 15 years of experience in healthcare and is executive director of the Biomedical Zone, talks to FPJ’s Jescilia Karayamparambil.

Edited Excerpts:

Where do see India and Canada working together in case of healthcare?

India has the talent and the resources to do it all on its own. But in Canada, we feel partnering is important as there are a lot of big problems and that require a lot of players’ participation. There are three different areas where India and Canada can partne talent, co-investment and technology. Canada gets exposed to great technology and India gets exposed to healthcare system and potentially the western market.

India has introduced ‘Ayushman Bharat’ which is a national health protection scheme for poor. Do you see this as a right time for entrepreneurs to step in?

I cannot think of any better situation for technology entrepreneurs and innovators. In a complex industry like healthcare, you need to get together to create a system that can leapfrog. It should not be linear or incremental improvement but should leapfrog. Such move is only possible through the help of technology. It sounds good. But the key will be for the government or health authorities to develop systems by engaging with entrepreneurs from India or Canada or entrepreneurs from around the world.

It would be important that you engage with these entrepreneurs early and frequently. Also most importantly, make it open for innovators to come and study the problem. This would be a great opportunity for innovators especially if it is for the underserved.

In the case of underserved or new age healthcare system, it always gets slapped with the label of social enterprise. It sometimes turns off the entrepreneurs as they eye for profits. It should not be that way. Fundamentally in healthcare, there will be a social element always; it cannot be about money only— it is unlike other industries. In healthcare, you are dealing with humans so there will be social responsibility. Health authorities will have to be open about working with innovators and everything will not be very smooth.

Are there entrepreneurs who come with that social responsibility and not care about funding?
Entrepreneurs want to take the risk. It is their nature to take risk. In the case of funding, Indian government and health authorities should throw their weight around engage with organisations that fund such programmes. In such projects, it is difficult to find traditional investors to come forward. It will only come through international institutions or non-government organisations that focus on healthcare system.

There has been a growing use of Augmented Reality (AR) and  Virtual Reality (VR). Where do you see the use if this technology in medicine?

VR and AR technology is an exciting area. It can be applied for surgical education. It can be obviously used for mental health like post-traumatic stress disorder. It can be used for therapy. It can be used in paediatrics to help children with autism and asperser’s syndrome. It can be used for basic sciences too. AR-VR is viewed more like a fancy technology. But in reality, it is about making frugal innovation in this area.

Tell me about the hospital-embedded business incubator that you run. How does that function?

Healthcare at some point takes place at hospitals. So, it makes sense to be there as there are professionals and patients. In hospitals, you come across a lot of problems that seek solution and that is why hospital-embedded incubator works. This system can work in India very well mainly because there are hospitals which deal in specialised field.

What kind of future innovations are you looking forward to?

It is a really exciting time for future of innovation. We are excited about robotics. I am looking at regenerative medicines— it can be stem cells for cancers or building organs and implanting it into the body. I don’t think it is far way. Also, using information/data to make inference of a person’s health.

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