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by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Indian Pharma Needs to Reinforce Supply Chain Capabilities

COVID-19 has emphasized the importance of strong healthcare and pharmaceutical ecosystem for India. Constant demand for drugs and the expectation to deliver them in time put a lot of pressure on pharma supply chains, highlighting several challenges and shortcomings. At the same time, the Indian pharma sector seems to have benefited from the situation as well, as the pandemic unlocked new avenues of growth. To seize new opportunities, the Indian pharma sector should now focus on increasing manufacturing capacity, invest in R&D capabilities, develop world-class infrastructure, and strengthen its supply chain network.

Challenging times for the Indian pharma sector

With coronavirus wreaking havoc, the Indian pharmaceutical sector was shaken and the pandemic inflicted several challenges on the industry.

The key challenge faced by pharmaceutical companies has been the shortage of key raw materials for manufacturing drugs. India imports 60% of APIs (Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients) and DIs (Drug Intermediates) and nearly 70% of this demand is met by Chinese companies (as of July 2020). This reliance to import cheaper raw materials from countries such as China is a result of lack of tax incentives, high cost of utilities, and low import duties in India.

India’s dependence on China has affected the supply of essential APIs. The recent pandemic has magnified this problem, and in order to meet the increasing demand, Indian pharma manufacturers need to strengthen their supply chain strategies by working with multiple API suppliers, both domestic as well as international.

Another concern has been the increased raw materials and logistics cost. Between January and June 2020, the production costs at the Chinese suppliers increased due to the implementation of safety and hygiene measures thus increasing the overall cost of APIs and other materials imported by India by an average of 25%. Logistics prices also went up during the same period, with the cost of shipping a container from China to India increasing to an average of US$ 1,250 up from US$ 750. Additionally, air freight charges also went up from US$ 2/kg to US$ 5-6/kg.

Furthermore, restrictions on movement of products and other goods also posed a problem for pharma supply chain. Even though the sector was exempted from these restrictions, delays in the delivery of drugs were registered. These delays have been largely contributed to by the complexity of various processes and their elements (from raw material procurement to procuring casing and other packaging material – all of which come from different locations to the final assembly point, and their delivery can be exposed to delays at each stage). While logistics companies tried to make product deliveries on time, they were restrained by limited workforce and movement restrictions (that required clearance at every step).

Moreover, due to panic buying, scarcity of OTC and generic drugs was also observed.

Government’s push to make India self-reliant

The government has undertaken steps to strengthen the pharma sector and announced several schemes and policies to boost domestic pharma manufacturing.

To reduce import dependence in APIs and boost domestic manufacturing, the government approved a US$ 971.6 million (INR 69.4 billion) Production Linked Incentive (PLI) Scheme in March 2020 to promote domestic manufacturing of APIs and KSMs (Key Starting Materials)/DIs. Under the scheme, financial incentives ranging from 5% to 20% of incremental sales will be given to selected manufacturers of 41 critical bulk drugs (of the identified 53 APIs for which the country is heavily dependent on imports). This includes aid for fermentation-based products from FY2023–2024 to FY2028–2029 and for chemical-synthesis-based products from FY2022–2023 to FY2027–2028. It is expected that the scheme will result in incremental sales of US$ 649.6 million (INR 464 billion) and generate a large number of employment opportunities.

Moreover, in November 2020, a new PLI Scheme (referred to as PLI 2.0) for the promotion of domestic manufacturing of pharmaceutical products was announced, wherein US$ 210 million (INR 150 billion) were allotted for pharma goods manufacturers based on their Global Manufacturing Revenue (GMR). Financial incentives ranging from 3% to 10% of incremental sales will be given to manufacturers (classified under Group A – having GMR of pharmaceutical goods of at least US$ 700 million (INR 50 billion), Group B – having GMR between US$ 70 million (INR 5 billion) and US$ 700 million (INR 50 billion), and Group C – having GMR less than US$ 70 million (INR 5 billion). The objective of the scheme is to promote production of high-value products, increase the value addition in exports, and improve the availability of a wider range of affordable medicines for local consumers. The initiative is likely to create 100,000 (20,000 direct and 80,000 indirect) jobs while generating total incremental sales of US$ 41,160 million (INR 2,940 billion) and total incremental exports of US$ 27,440 million (INR 1,960 billion) during six years from FY2022-2023 to FY2027-2028.

Another scheme named Promotion of Bulk Drug Parks was announced by the government in March 2020 to attain self-reliance. Under the plan, funds worth US$ 420 million (INR 30 billion) were allotted for setting up three bulk drug parks between 2020 and 2025. This initiative aims at reducing the manufacturing cost as well as the dependency on importing bulk drugs from other countries. Financial assistance will be given to selected bulk drug parks to the extent of 70% of the project cost of common infrastructure facilities (for north-eastern regions and states in the mountainous areas, the assistance will be 90%). The aid per bulk Drug Park will be limited to US$ 140 million (INR 10 billion).

Furthermore, to end reliance on China, Indian pharma companies are also taking steps to strengthen their operations and manufacturing capabilities with regard to pharmaceutical ingredients. For instance, Cipla Ltd. (Mumbai-based pharmaceutical company) launched the “API re-imagination” program in 2020 to expand its manufacturing capacity by using the government incentive schemes.

The announcement of the above schemes is a show of intent by the government towards building a self-sufficient pharma sector in India. It will be interesting to see how much pharma players stand to gain from these potentially game-changing initiatives. However, only time will tell if these policies are good enough for the industry stakeholders or will these schemes not be plentiful enough to truly help the manufacturers.

Indian Pharma Needs to Reinforce Supply Chain Capabilities by EOS Intelligence

Investment in API and intermediaries’ sub-sectors on the rise

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, Indian pharmaceutical companies (that deal particularly with manufacturing of APIs, vaccine-related products, and bulk pharma chemicals) have been attracting huge investment from private equity firms. This is happening mainly because of two reasons. Firstly, the occurrence of the second wave of COVID-19 in India has increased the demand for medicines (including demand for self-care, nutritional, and preventive pharma products to boost immunity), and secondly, pharma companies across North America and Europe are shifting their manufacturing sites from China to India (to reduce dependency on a single source). Indian companies received an investment worth US$ 1.5 billion from private equity firms during the FY2020-2021 (since the coronavirus outbreak) and the investment is expected to reach US$ 3-4 billion in the FY2021-2022.

Some of the major deals that happened in this space included Carlyle Group (US-based private equity firm) buying 20% stake in Piramal Pharma (Mumbai-based pharma company) for US$ 490 million in June 2020 and 74% stake in SeQuent Scientific (India-based pharmaceutical company) for US$ 210 million in May 2020. Further, KKR & Co. (US-based global investment company) purchased a 54% controlling stake in J.B. Chemicals & Pharmaceuticals Ltd. (Mumbai-based pharmaceutical company) for nearly US$ 410 million in July 2020. Another example is Advent International (US-based private equity firm) acquiring stakes in RA Chem Pharma (Hyderabad-based pharmaceutical company) for US$ 128 million in July 2020.

From a capital perspective, COVID-19 acted as an investment accelerant that will keep the market open for opportunistic deals for many years to come. In the current scenario, investment firms are re-evaluating the pharma landscape and looking to invest in innovative ideas and products that help them grow. It is highly likely that in the coming months, if the right opportunity strikes, the investment firms will not deter from going ahead with novel deal structures. This could include arrangements such as both parties sharing equal risk and rewards, a for-profit partnership wherein the investor specifically focuses on enhancing the digital-marketing capabilities of the pharma company (rather than sticking to just acquiring a certain share or merge with an existing company) and being open to taking more risk, if needed.

Partnerships expected to increase

The pandemic has led pharma companies to rethink their operational and business strategies. For long-term sustainability, players are analyzing their market position and partnering with other industry stakeholders for better market penetration and value creation for their customers.

In November 2020, Indian Immunologicals Ltd. (Hyderabad-based vaccine company) announced that the company would invest US$ 10.5 million (INR 0.75 billion) in a new viral antigen manufacturing plant based in Telangana that would cater to the need for vaccines for diseases such as dengue, zika, varicella, and COVID-19 (in April 2021, the company announced a research collaboration agreement with the Griffith University, Australia to develop a vaccine for the coronavirus).

Furthermore, Jubilant Life Sciences Ltd. (Noida-based pharma company) entered into a non-exclusive licensing agreement with Gilead Sciences (US-based biopharmaceutical company) granting it the right to register, manufacture, and sell Remdesivir (Gilead Sciences’ drug currently used as a potential therapy for Covid-19) in India (along with other 126 countries).

In February 2021, to scale up the biopharma ecosystem, the state government of Telangana partnered with Cytiva (earlier GE Healthcare Life Sciences) to open a new Fast Trak lab in Hyderabad. This facility will enable the biopharma companies in the region to improve and increase production efficiency, reduce operational costs, and make products available in the market quicker.

Future ripe for new opportunities

The pandemic has opened a stream of opportunities for India’s pharma sector which are expected to drive the growth of the sector in the long term.

China’s supply disruption and increased raw material costs have forced global pharma companies to reduce dependence on China. As an alternative, the companies either set up new API manufacturing plants (which is time-consuming) or turn to existing European or US drug manufacturers to help them meet their requirements. However, both options are capitally draining and there is a need for finding a cost-efficient solution. This presents a huge opportunity for the Indian API sector which is also a key earnings growth driver for pharma manufacturers.

India is among the leading global producers of cost-effective generic medicines. Now there is a need to diversify the product offerings by focusing on complex generics and biosimilars. With the guidance of the United States Food & Drug Administration (USFDA) in identifying the most appropriate methodology for developing complex generic drugs, Indian pharma companies such as Dr. Reddy’s, Zydus, Glenmark, Aurobindo, Torrent, Lupin, Cipla, Sun, and Cadila are working on their product pipeline of complex generics. Currently, the space has limited competition and offers higher margins (in comparison to generic drugs) thus presenting a lucrative opportunity for Indian players to explore and grow.

Similarly, biosimilars (referred to as similar biologics in India) is another area where Indian companies have not been faring too well in international markets mainly due to the non-alignment of Indian regulatory guidelines with the guidelines in other markets (mainly in Europe and USA). The government had already revised the guidelines of similar biologics (done in 2016, which provided an efficient regulatory pathway for manufacturing processes assuring safety and efficacy with quality as per cGMP (Current Good Manufacturing Practice regulations enforced by the FDA)) and introduced industry-institute initiatives (such as ‘National Bio-Pharma Mission’, launched in 2017 to accelerate biopharmaceutical development, including biosimilars, among others) to improve the situation. But now with the intensified need for improved healthcare system and more effective medicines, COVID has presented Indian companies with an opportunity to shape their biosimilar landscape.

India holds a strong position as a key destination for outsourcing research activities. While it has been a preferred location for global pharma companies to set R&D plants for a number of years now, becoming an outsourcing hub for pharma research is another growth area that is yet to be explored to its full potential.

EOS Perspective

Currently, the Indian pharma industry is at an interesting crossroad wherein the industry responded to the unprecedented situation with agility and persistence. The pandemic presented several opportunities and challenges for the industry and unsurprisingly, had a positive impact on the sector. The pandemic acted as a catalyst for change and investment for the pharma sector, which also responded to the challenges by adjusting to the new normal that furthered new opportunities.

In the past few months, COVID-19 has led the government to reassess the country’s pharmaceutical manufacturing capabilities and led them to take steps to make India self-sufficient. As an immediate measure, the country has been reviewing its business policies (for the ease of doing business and to attract more investment) and pharma companies recalibrating their business models, and some success has been achieved. The government should also be mindful that, in the long run, success will only be achieved when industry stakeholders are presented with a business environment (in the form of incentives, tax-subsidies, low rate of interest on bank loans, utilities such as electricity and water at discounted rates, and transparent business policies, etc.) that is conducive for growth.

Moving forward, the Indian pharma companies need to be adaptive and flexible. While the sector has been resilient to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, companies need to focus on risk management as well. Moreover, with continuous capital flowing into the sector, there is an opportunity for firms to not just broaden their scope of innovation but also to invest in critical therapeutic areas.

To emerge as a winner post pandemic, the Indian pharma industry needs to focus on its strengths and propel full steam in the direction of opportunities presented by COVID-19.

*All currency conversions as on 20th May, 2021, 1 INR = 0.014 US$

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

COVID-19 Outbreak Boosts the Use of Telehealth Services

Telehealth is one of the few sectors that have benefited from the coronavirus outbreak. Telehealth services have been around since 1950s, however, they were perceived as a nice-to-have alternative to conventional delivery of healthcare services and thus largely underutilized. COVID-19 pandemic has proved to be a game changer for the industry. Since social distancing became a necessary measure to curb the risk of COVID-19 transmission, telehealth emerged as a viable option to offer uninterrupted healthcare without physical contact. Towards the end of 2020, Deloitte predicted that virtual consultations would account for 5% of total visits to doctor in the world in 2021, up from 1% in 2019. To put this into perspective, in 2019, doctor’s visits in OECD-36 countries totaled 8.5 billion, worth approximately US$500 billion. 5% of this would result in about 400 million teleconsultations and over US$25 billion in value (if doctors earn the same for teleconsultations as for in-person visits).

Telehealth services uptake during the pandemic varied by region

While the adoption of telehealth services has increased across the globe, the growth rate varied by region depending upon factors such as technology and infrastructure, consumer awareness and willingness, government regulations, insurance policies, etc.

In the USA, world’s largest telehealth market which accounted for 40% of the global share in 2019, the growth over the years was steady but incremental mainly because of regulatory constraints and stringent insurance policies.

In response to the pandemic, the US government health insurance plans (Medicare, Medicaid, etc.) as well as private insurers expanded their coverage for telehealth services. As a result, telehealth accounted for 43.5% of all US Medicare primary care visits in April 2020, compared with just 0.1% before the pandemic. US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicated that the number of telehealth visits increased by 154% during the last week of March 2020, compared with the same period in 2019, primarily due to policy changes and public health guidance on telehealth during the pandemic. Considering unprecedented rise in demand for telehealth services during the times of pandemic, in April 2020, Forrester (a research and consulting firm) revised their estimation for virtual general medical care visits in the USA from 36 million to 200 million for the year 2020.

UK and France have been the dominating countries in the European telehealth market. Telehealth services’ growth momentum due to COVID-19 pandemic in these countries is likely to continue because of conducive environmental factors such as established ecosystem, favorable regulatory framework, reimbursement policies, and consumer readiness. UK’s National Health Service revealed that 48% of GP consultations in May 2020 were carried out remotely over the telephone, compared with 14% in February of the same year. Teleconsultations in France increased from 40,000 in February 2020 to 611,000 in March 2020.

Growth of telehealth market in Switzerland, Germany, and Austria has been comparatively slow as these countries have more decentralized healthcare systems in contrast to UK or France. For instance, McKinsey’s survey of over 1,000 consumers from Germany, conducted in November 2020, showed that only 2% respondents started or increased usage of telehealth services since COVID-19 outbreak.

In countries such as Greece and Czech Republic, telehealth platforms were launched for the first time during the pandemic. Ireland had telehealth platforms before COVID-19, but the adoption of the telehealth services even after pandemic remains moderate because of lack of favorable regulatory framework.

COVID-19 Outbreak Boosts the Use of Telehealth Services

China and India are among the fastest growing telehealth markets in Asia. The number of telehealth providers in China increased from less than 150 to nearly 600 between late 2019 and early 2020. Telehealth platforms in India are witnessing increased interest from both patients as well as doctors. India’s leading health-tech firm, Practo, reported that 50 million people opted for teleconsultations through its platform between March 2020 and May 2020, representing 500% growth in teleconsultations during this time. 1mg Technologies, another telehealth service provider in India, indicated that between March 2020 and July 2020 nearly 10,000 doctors showed interest in signing up with the platform to offer teleconsultations. The company had only 150 doctors onboard until March 2020.

Japan, which is one of the largest healthcare markets, lagged in remote healthcare services because of stringent legislative policies. Remote consultations were allowed only for recurring patients and for limited number of ailments. Following the spike in COVID-19 cases, Japan temporarily eased restrictions on telehealth by allowing doctors to conduct first-time consultation online. Japan health ministry indicated that about 15% or 16,100 Japanese medical institutions (excluding dentists), offered telehealth services by July 2020. This shows phenomenal growth as in July 2018 only 970 of such Japanese healthcare institutions offered telehealth services.

In South Korea, telehealth was banned before COVID-19. This ban was lifted temporarily during the pandemic, but the long-term growth of telehealth in South Korea will depend on how the regulatory framework is shaped in the post-COVID era.

Vietnam also joined the telehealth upsurge as the country’s first telehealth app (developed by the Vietnamese multinational telecommunications company, Viettel) was launched amidst corona virus outbreak in April 2020.

Industry stakeholders seek to capitalize on telehealth boom

Healthcare providers have turned to telehealth to compensate for cancelled in-person consultations due to COVID-19 outbreak. This has encouraged providers to scale up their telehealth capabilities. For instance, over 56,000 doctors in France started teleconsultations by July 2020, as compared with only a few thousands at the beginning of the year.

Healthcare providers are not the only players looking to capitalize on the increase in demand for telehealth services. Other industry participants such as insurers and pharmacies are also exploring this segment.

In the USA, leading insurers such as Cigna, United Health, Aetna, Anthem, and Humana are partnering with telehealth providers to capitalize on the spurt in virtual healthcare demand. For instance, in February 2021, Cigna announced plans to acquire MDLive, Florida-based telehealth firm serving 60 million people across the USA, with a view to bring telehealth services in-house and reduce the patient-provider accessibility gap. Pharmacy giants Walgreens and CVS also extended access to telehealth services during COVID-19 crisis. In March 2021, a US-based digital retail pharmacy NowRx expanded into telehealth to provide care for HIV patients in California.

Since telehealth primarily encompasses delivery of healthcare services through digital and telecommunications platforms, telecoms and cable operators are uniquely positioned to organically expand in to telehealth space. Telecoms have the opportunity to expand in healthcare space by delivering telehealth as a value-added service. In October 2020, CommScope, an infrastructure solutions provider for communications networks, estimated that telehealth has the potential to create US$50 billion per year revenue opportunity for internet and telecom service providers in the USA.

Moreover, leading technology firms including Amazon, Microsoft, Salesforce, Tencent, Alibaba, and Alphabet are also investing in or considering to invest in telehealth. For instance, in January 2020, Alibaba launched an online coronavirus clinic, to offer remote assistance to patients across China.

Telehealth startups are mushrooming across the world and raking in millions in investment. Mercom Capital Group indicated that, in 2020, telehealth attracted nearly US$4.3 billion in venture funding. This represents 139% year-on-year increase compared to US$1.8 billion in 2019 implying that COVID-19 outbreak was the key driver behind the increased investment in telehealth.

Since everyone is trying to grab a piece of the growing telehealth market cake, this has led to flurry of M&A deals. Mercom Capital Group recorded 23 M&A transactions in telehealth space in 2020, up from 14 transactions in 2019.

EOS Perspective

COVID-19 outbreak worked as a catalyst resulting in dramatic increase in telehealth services utilization; whether this growth will continue in the long term, remains a question. This growth of telehealth market is primarily demand-driven. Thus, to sustain the growth momentum it would be imperative to overcome the challenges faced by the industry before the pandemic.

Ambiguous and often changing regulatory framework remains one of the biggest hindrances to telehealth. In order to tackle the spread of coronavirus, many countries temporarily relaxed their regulations for telehealth. However, it remains unknown whether countries will pull back the relaxations once the pandemic is over. Moreover, telehealth opens up doors for cross-border provision of healthcare services. This calls for development for a universal law for telehealth which is acceptable worldwide.

Further, the market will also largely depend on how the reimbursement policies evolve in the future. Historically, in many countries, reimbursement for teleconsultations has been lower than for in-person consultations. During the pandemic, the reimbursement amount was leveled in order to encourage adoption of telehealth. This proved to be a strong incentive driving the surge in telehealth. Post the pandemic, if the policies are changed again offering lower reimbursement for teleconsultations as compared with in-person visits, this could impact the growth momentum.

Data security and privacy concerns have long been debated as some of the biggest barriers for telehealth worldwide. Development of more secure platforms using technologies such as blockchain, AI, and Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) networks could potentially address these issues in future. Further applications of blockchain are being explored to improve operational transparency, increase protection of health records, and detect fraud related to patients’ insurance claims as well as physician credentials.

It is believed that the risk of misdiagnosis increases with telehealth as compared to in-person visits. This risk can be significantly reduced by integration of remote patient monitoring technologies with teleconsultations. IoT-enabled remote care monitoring technologies have been evolving by leaps and bounds. Teleconsultations carried out in conjunction with data collated from smart wearable devices can potentially help to cut down misdiagnoses.

Telehealth has become the new normal amidst coronavirus outbreak. While the telehealth market growth in the next 2-3 years could be attributed to pandemic crisis, the future will depend on how the regulatory framework will shape up and whether the industry will be able to tackle the challenges related to the technology implementation.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Blockchain: a Frontline Warrior in Battling Coronavirus Pandemic

SARS-COV-2 has brought the world to a standstill. Technology and its creative uses have been playing a pivotal role in sustaining lives during the pandemic as well as combating the crisis. One such technology that has been in the forefront of the pandemic is blockchain. From mitigating supply chain issues with medicines and protection gear to facilitating transparency in donations to effectively tracking the spread of the virus and protecting patient privacy, blockchain technology is being applied across the spectrum to contain and manage the outbreak.

The current pandemic has brought to light many inefficiencies and limitations of the existing global healthcare systems, wherein governments across the globe are grappling to control the outbreak, challenged by the lack of a unified interconnected and trusted network to share data and track cases. Blockchain has several inherent properties, such as decentralized ledger, transparency, immutability, that make it suitable for handling and managing various aspects of containing the pandemic.

Outbreak tracking

Global health authorities and governments across the globe are having a hard time gathering authentic data regarding tests and patient numbers, hospital beds, recoveries, etc. Currently, most of the data circulating is disparate, and comes from multiple sources, such as hospitals, labs, public, and media, instead of one authorized source. This is extremely damaging since this results in the creation of a great amount of inaccurate and duplicate data, which if trusted, makes the process of tracking and containment both time consuming and ineffective. This is counter-productive to the management of a disease that is as fast spreading as COVID-19.

Blockchain technology can come to play in effectively tackling this issue. Owing to its distributed and immutable nature, blockchain can provide a feasible solution for tracking the outbreak. Blockchain-based apps facilitate organizations across the globe to form a single connected network where data can be shared in real time and securely. Moreover, since data stored in blockchain is immutable, it is protected against unauthorized changes and its distributed nature ensures protection against fraudulent data (since each entry requires consensus algorithms and smart contracts). Lastly, blockchain efficiently manages high volumes of data (as in the cases of the COVID pandemic) in a real time basis, which cannot be managed using human resources.

However, in addition to these factors, the aspect that stands out the most and makes blockchain technology ideal for monitoring and managing outbreak-related information is the level of privacy it offers. People do not wish for their information to be shared publicly or be used for other purposes. Thus it is a challenge to get patients to collaborate with governments and healthcare institutions to share information regarding their condition and wellness. For instance, the Israel government recently permitted healthcare institutions to track citizens’ mobile phones to control the spread of coronavirus. This has raised concerns from human rights organizations as citizens are not comfortable with sharing their personal information.

Since blockchain uses a distributed ledger, which ensures accountability and transparency with regards to access to its stored data, the information shared through blockchain cannot be extracted or misused. Moreover, information stored in a blockchain cannot be hacked. This encourages patients to share information regarding their condition, symptoms, location, and underlying health conditions without fear of the information being misused or shared with any third-party.

Furthermore, information shared by patients in a blockchain network may not only be used for tracking the outbreak but also facilitate health centers study the disease characteristics and patterns to develop treatment and solutions.

For instance, WHO has been using a blockchain-based data streaming platform, called MiPasa, which facilitates the sharing of information amongst need-to-know organizations such as state authorities and health officials. The platform is built on top of Hyperledger Fabric and partners with IBM for blockchain and cloud platforms. The application cross-references siloed location data with health information to track and prevent the spread of the outbreak, all while protecting patient privacy.

In another example, Atlanta-based developer of blockchain-enabled healthcare applications, Acoer, developed an application called HashLog, which allows real time logging and data visualization of the spread of the infection. HashLog provides real-time updates on the spread of the disease by tracking movement of infected people to identify potential outbreaks and prevent further spread. The application uses the Hedera Hashgraph distributed ledger technology and each entry is recorded through a verified hash reference on the ledger, ensuring that the data is correct.

Donations

In addition to tracking and preventing outbreaks, blockchain also plays an important role in securing donations. From hospitals and state authorities with insufficient funds for medical supplies to economically-weaker sections of the populations losing source of income due to lockdown, the current pandemic has displaced a huge number of people across the globe. Thus in such times, donations play a critical role in sustaining livelihoods and providing healthcare supplies to the affected people. However, given fraud associated with donations in recent times, lack of trust is a common factor affecting success of donations. Several individuals want to help and donate, however, are discouraged due to fear of their money being misused.

For instance in India, the government and police warned citizens against several fake relief schemes that have been floating in the name of COVID-19 relief, some even mirroring the Prime Ministers Relief Fund. These kind of activities deter willing people from donating.

Blockchain technology can be used to effectively combat this issue. Since all transactions in blockchain are secure, transparent, and traceable, donors can track their funds and see where they are utilized. This gives confidence to donors that their funds are being used for the exact purpose that they intended.

One such example is Hangzhou-based blockchain startup Hyperchain, which built a blockchain-based donation tracking platform for supporting government and hospitals (such as Tangshan People’s Hospital, Jiayu People’s Hospital and Xiantao No. 1 People’s Hospital) in the donation process. The platform has attracted more than US$2 million in donations.

 

Blockchain a Frontline Warrior in Battling Coronavirus Pandemic by EOS Intelligence

Supply chain tracking

Blockchain technology has been deemed extremely useful in managing and tracing the supply chain in several sectors as retail (for more insights on this read our article Blockchain Paving Its Way into Retail Industry). However, given the current pandemic, the technology can also utilize similar functionalities and play a significant role in tracking of medical supplies.

Given the pace of spread of COVID-19, authorities and healthcare organizations across the globe have faced a shortage of medical supplies, such as masks, sanitizers, PPE kits, ventilators, testing equipment, as well as some medicines. This drastic increase in demand has resulted in distribution of large number of counterfeit and faulty products. Blockchain technology can play a significant role to combat this. Given the data provenance in blockchain and its immutable nature, it is possible to identify and trace back every touchpoint of the medical supplies to ensure its authenticity.

In addition to filtering counterfeit products, blockchain also helps streamline the supply chain process to ensure hospitals and doctors secure timely supplies to treat patients. Blockchain can provide real-time updates regarding demand so that medical manufacturers can adjust production levels accordingly. In addition, it can help fast-track supply chain contracts through the use of smart contracts, and facilitate faster payments, thereby improving the overall efficiency.

In February 2020, China-based AliPay, along with the Zhejiang Provincial Health Commission and the Economy and Information Technology Department, launched a blockchain-based platform to facilitate the tracking of medical supplies required for fighting SARS-COV-2. The platform has improved trust within the medical supply chain since it records and tracks the entire provenance of preventive supplies including masks, gloves, and PPE kits.

Apart from medical supply chain, blockchain can also help limit supply chain disruptions faced by several other industries due to lockdown in several parts of the world. However, companies that are using blockchain for managing their supply chain have an advantage as they have better visibility into their complete supply chain and thereby can identify points of disruption in a timely manner.

Avoiding future pandemics

Blockchain is on the front line for fighting the current pandemic, but it also has the potential to prevent future disease outbreaks. Most of current healthcare surveillance systems across the globe are outdated and lack the required timeliness and efficiency in sharing information with local as well as international health enforcement organizations. Moreover, sometimes there is a question of deliberate delay in sharing of critical information.

To this effect, blockchain-based health surveillance systems can help mitigate future outbreaks. Since they operate on a decentralized ledger, the surveillance data is transparently available to health organizations across the globe in a real-time manner, without the fear of any political disruptions. Timely knowledge of a potential outbreak is the first and most critical step in preventing a similar situation in the future.

In addition to the above mentioned applications, blockchain companies along with institutions are developing creative solutions that help reduce challenges faced by people due to COVID in their day to day living. For instance, Toronto-based blockchain company, Emerge, launched a public safety app called Civitas, which assists the citizens and local authorities across Latin America. This app matches one’s official ID to confidential medical records stored in the blockchain to identify whether the person is allowed to leave the house or not. Thus the app allows police to verify if the person has a travel permission just on the basis of their government ID and without gaining access to the person’s medical records. The app also determines the safest time and day for going out for essentials for people who are experiencing COVID-like symptoms.

Moreover, as discussed in our previous article (Blockchain Scores Well in the Education Sector) blockchain also is extremely useful in the virtual education scenario, which is now the new way of schooling for large part of students across the globe.

EOS Perspective

Blockchain technology has several inherent properties that make it ideal for helping to manage and combat the current pandemic. Its decentralized, traceable, and immutable properties make is especially desirable for managing contact tracing and outbreak tracking, which are critical in handling a pandemic efficiently. Moreover, the benefits of blockchain are further amplified when used alongside other technologies, such as artificial intelligence, cloud computing, and big data.

However, despite its several uses, the issue of scalability plagues blockchain adaption at a larger scale. Blockchain is still a nascent technology and lacks high-level scalability. With COVID affecting most of the world, the current blockchain companies do not have that level of scalability to provide all-encompassing global level solutions.

Furthermore, blockchain technology does not operate alone and it needs to be configured with the operating legacy system at companies and other stakeholders. However, most legacy systems are relatively old and therefore do not support blockchain technology. Updating or reconfiguring a legacy system is a tedious process (both in terms of time and money) and companies may not want to tie up resources for that at the current time.

Given these drawbacks, blockchain may not be deployed at a global-scale level during this pandemic, however, its inherent benefits have made companies, authorities, and global health organizations ponder, explore, and evaluate its potential in managing such situations in the future. While the COVID-19 pandemic has caught the world largely unprepared, organizations and companies across the globe are gearing up to ensure this history is not repeated and blockchain technology has emerged as a critical part of the solution.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

The Smoke around Legal Cannabis

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Till date, 31 countries and 41 states in the USA either legalized cannabis in various forms, including making it legal for medical or recreational use, or decriminalized it while still maintaining its illegal status. Few countries are preparing to legalize or decriminalize the use of marijuana for all purposes while many countries are still debating over the legalization of this plant only for medical and not for recreational use. With the rise in education about cannabis and its benefits for humans, economies, and culture, chances of positive changes in laws around cannabis are growing across the world. As legalizing cannabis is still a topic of debate with variety of business, political, and cultural views involved, we are looking at how the legalization of cannabis might impact the economy and businesses in the countries taking the step towards less restrictive approach to handling the issue.

Cannabis – a controversial medicinal plant

Cannabis or marijuana plant and its alleged benefits and risks for human body have been a difficult topic of debate amongst law makers, medical professionals, researchers, economists, politicians, and (of course) cannabis users. In many parts of the world, it still has negative connotations with a narcotic drug, due to presence of psychoactive substance tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) which brings an intoxicating effect to human mind.

In many countries, cannabis has been treated similarly to other chemical drugs, such as cocaine, heroin, etc., in terms of its legal status, by banning from legal cultivation, purchase, or selling for any purpose. However, there has been a continuous development in spreading awareness by the medical professionals, researchers, and scientists on the benefits of using cannabis for medical purposes. This has been followed by voices being raised on people’s right to legalized cannabis also for recreational purposes, comparing it with alcohol and tobacco, which are claimed to have far worse impact on human health, yet are enjoying legal status in many countries.

In addition to this, many economists too are coming forward in favor of legalizing cannabis to bring a boost to economies. As a result of such strong petitions, more and more countries are considering legalization of cannabis and the future might see countries such as USA (including all 50 states), Mexico, New Zealand, The Netherlands, Columbia, France, Spain, Italy, Czech Republic, Jamaica, and Portugal legalizing the plant for all purposes, along with legalization of personal cultivation of cannabis with an aim of bringing cure or relief to several diseases, helping to control healthcare costs, curbing illegal drug businesses, and stimulating country’s economy through adding another taxable business activity.

The Smoke around Legal Cannabis

Countries signal green light for marijuana

The league of countries with full legalization of cannabis for all purposes is still a small, two-member club, which was most recently entered by Canada (in October 2018) with more than 100 legal cannabis retail stores running across the country. After Uruguay that started this league in December 2013, Canada is the second country in the world to completely legalize cannabis, and it does not seem that the club will expand any time soon.

The USA are considering to gradually legalize cannabis for recreational use along with medical use. As of November 2018, The District of Columbia and 10 states including Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington have legalized the recreational use of cannabis. An addition of 30 states along with US territories of Puerto Rico and Guam allow the use of cannabis only for medical purposes.

Amongst the European countries, none of them has legalized smoking cannabis or using it for recreational purposes yet, but there are several countries which have legalized the medical use of cannabis under a treatment process, while also decriminalizing the use of cannabis for recreational purposes. Malta, Greece, Luxemburg, and Denmark are amongst the European countries that legalized medical cannabis in 2018 adding to the group of other European countries such as Italy, Norway, Poland, The Netherlands, France, Spain, Slovenia, to name a few.

Some Asian countries are also moving towards legalizing cannabis but exclusively for medical purposes and that too with strict policies. Recently, in November 2018, Thailand legalized medical marijuana, but with very stringent rules to get access to marijuana plants. Also, in November 2018, South Korea became the second Asian country to legalize medical cannabis, while Malaysia is expected to be the third nation to fall into this group. Interestingly though, India, known to be the origin of cannabis sativa plant, has not legalized the use of cannabis for any purpose yet, although the country runs a huge illegal trade of marijuana as well as hashish (a drug made of cannabis resin). There are many petitions already submitted by various Indian economists and politicians in favor of legalizing cannabis for use in cancer patients and even hemp cultivation for horticulture use, but due to changing political environment in India, the petitions are still pending to be considered by the relevant law-making bodies.

Cannabis business – boom in economies

According to a report published in 2018 by Brightfield Group, with the on-going trend of countries moving towards legalizing cannabis, the global legal cannabis market is expected to reach US$ 31.4 billion by the end of 2021, owing to the growing adoption of medical cannabis in treatment or relief in a range of diseases and ailments, such as cancer, mental disorders, chronic pains, and others.

Apart from medical applications, the recreational use of cannabis too has led to a continuous rise in sales of cannabis for direct and indirect use, thus giving a push to retail businesses as well as tourism sector in countries that moved towards legalization. As a result of the rise in sales, governments of these countries and states have registered increased tax revenues and a boost to local economies. For instance, California that legalized cannabis for recreational use in January 2018, generated US$74.2 million of tax revenue during second quarter, with a rise of 22% over the first quarter. In another, more hypothetical example, according to a report by Canada’s Parliamentary Budget Officer, Canada could generate US$463.74 million in tax revenue by 2021 if the projections of nearly 734 metric tons of legal cannabis to be consumed by that year are correct.

Similarly, according to a study by New Frontier Data, if cannabis was legalized in all American states, it would generate a combined US$131.8 billion in federal tax revenue between 2017 and 2025, considering 15% retail sales tax, payroll deductions, and business tax revenue. In fact, according to a research study by Ameri Research Inc. in 2017, in the USA, tax revenues from legal cannabis are now comparable with revenues from other products, such as draft beer and e-cigarettes, a fact highlighting the recent growth of sales in legal cannabis market in the USA.

Apart from tax revenue generation, creating new business opportunities is also one of the reasons for countries to seriously consider legalization of cannabis. States such as Colorado, for example, have registered some 431,997 new business entities between 2014 and 2017. In 2017, it also experienced a 17.7% rise in employment over 2016 with 17,281 full-time equivalent jobs. Also, in 2017, across the USA, there were 9,397 active licenses with slightly more than 3,000 licenses active in Colorado. These licenses were made active for cannabis businesses dealing with cultivation, manufacturing, retailing, distributing, delivering, and even lab testing that generated 121,000 jobs in 2017 across the District of Columbia plus 10 US states. This number is expected to reach 1.1 million jobs by 2025, if cannabis is legalized in all 50 states, across all ends of cannabis industry supply chain, from farmers to transporters to sellers.

It is expected that through legalization of cannabis, several countries, especially Mexico, USA, and Canada, are also expected to witness significant drop in illicit activities related to drugs industry. According to a study by Deloitte in 2018, cannabis users in Canada are willing and in fact looking forward to pay more for legal purchase of cannabis grown and processed under federal laws and sold through legal channels rather than going for illegal drug purchase options. This goes hand in hand with Canadian government’s hopes to crack down on illegal drug trade while also finding new sources of stimulation to the country’s economy.

Impact of legal cannabis market on other business sectors

The emergence of legal cannabis market has raised many business opportunities in various sectors such as retail, food and beverages, real estate, and even tobacco and alcohol industry.

Amongst these sectors, real estate has been developing strongly in many countries allowing for legal cannabis for medical as well as recreational use. Properties and facilities that are well-suited for cannabis-related operations are experiencing rise in industrial rents and sales price premiums owing to the rise in demand for warehouses, industrial and storage facilities, agricultural, and other properties.

In Canada, legalization of growing and sales of recreational cannabis has fueled a six-fold surge in plant-growing facilities to 8.7 million square feet in 2018 according to data from Altus Group, Canadian real estate company. Aurora Cannabis, one of Canada’s leading cannabis companies, has already started its project for cultivation of cannabis in a new 8 million square feet facility in 2018. Canopy Growth, market leader in cannabis industry of Canada, has announced plans in October 2018 to develop 3 million square feet of greenhouse space in British Columbia through October 2019, which will be more than double its production surface as of 2018. With the legalization of cannabis, the demand is also rising for commercial real estate thus giving an opportunity for struggling retailers to make a move into a new market. Alberta, where cannabis industry is fully private, has experienced a sharp surge in demand for 1,200 to 3,000 square feet retail real estate to set up cannabis shops and dispensaries in malls and street-front locations.

Similarly, within the USA, Colorado, experienced a rise in real estate sector through increase in housing values by about 6% owing to increasing development in retail sector through legal cannabis pharmacies, dispensaries, cafés, and retail shops. Going beyond real estate, the retail industry is also likely to receive a push thanks to opportunities in auxiliary businesses such as accessory shops, cannabis cafés, weed gardening products stores, bakeries, and candy shops, contributing to rising demand for retail locations.

The impact of cannabis legalization is visible also in food and beverage industry thanks to new products such as cannabis-infused edibles such as cakes, candies, and drinks. In 2017, California reported sales of US$180 million of edibles, whereas Colorado has seen about a 60% rise in edibles sales volume (with 11.1 million edibles unites been sold in the same year). The future of food and beverage industry with cannabis-infused edibles is projected to be promising due to the benefits of cannabis plant for using it in food products. According to a food and beverage industry expert, Sylvian Charlebois, cannabis offers good nutrients (proteins, vitamin E and C, to name a few), hence for food products manufacturers looking for new avenues of growth, cannabis could be deemed the next ‘superfood’.

On the other hand, the legalization of cannabis has affected alcohol industry due to the emerging inclination of people towards choosing the “green high” over alcoholic drinks.

According to a study by Deloitte in 2018, in Canada, cannabis is likely to be increasingly perceived as a substitute to beer, spirits, and wine which could negatively impact the alcoholic beverages-related revenues for governments, liquor companies, and retailers. This is already observed in the USA, where a joint recent research study of 10 years conducted by two US-based universities, namely University of Connecticut, Storrs and Georgia University, Atlanta in cooperation with Universidad del Pacifico in Peru, has suggested that the counties located in medical marijuana states showed almost a 15% decline in monthly alcohol sales between 2006 and 2015.

At the same time, some industry experts believe that since it is part of American and European food culture to drink alcoholic drinks such as beer and wine with food, the legalization of cannabis is not going to affect the demand for such food-complementing alcoholic drinks. In fact, cannabis legalization is also coming out to be a stepping stone for large alcohol brands to enter the cannabis industry with cannabis-infused alcoholic beverages, mostly through mergers and acquisitions with leading cannabis growing companies. In August 2018, New-York based Constellation Brands acquired more that 50% stake of Ontario-based Canopy Growth for US$4.0 billion, the largest investment registered in cannabis industry so far. The received investment is believed to help Canopy Growth strengthen and expand its leadership position in Canada and other countries with legalized cannabis. It is expected that in the future, other alcohol industry leaders will also consider getting involved in cannabis industry in order to expand through cannabis-infused drinks, creating a new segment of products with combination of alcohol and cannabis.

EOS Perspective

The benefits of cannabis on human body in diseases such as cancer, acute and chronic pains, or neurological and mental illness, have resulted in a growing count of countries legalizing use of cannabis. On the other hand, the legalizing of cannabis for recreational purpose is still receiving mixed views by industry experts and public opinions in several countries. The only way to make this experiment work, is to follow the steps of those countries that have legalized recreational cannabis and are simultaneously focusing on implementing a completely regulated system to scrutinize the whole supply chain in order to curb illegal drug activities and over-dose of cannabis by the users.

For this purpose, the leaders – Uruguay and Canada – have created systems of registration cards with a specific limit to purchase a quantity of cannabis for recreational use per month. As a result of this, the situation is expected to be under control and authorities believe that this will help in curbing illegal trade activities while keeping check on personal consumption of cannabis.

It is also recommended to consider the fact that legalization of cannabis for recreational and medical purposes is likely to reduce the use of other, more harmful and addictive drugs, as well as curb (at least to some extent) the over-consumption of alcohol that is associated with serious health hazards and many deaths, generating huge social burden and healthcare costs in many countries.

Considering all these factors, the success of legalizing cannabis for all purposes in any country depends on how the processes across cultivation, distribution, retail, all the way to the end buyer is regulated and scrutinized by the law makers and law enforcers of the country. There surely are both pros and cons of legalizing cannabis but with solid work towards improved awareness, and, more importantly, a regulated system with proper (enforced) laws, it can give the countries a boost to their economies along with rise in employment, better medical treatments, and decline in illegal drug activities.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

A Ripple Effect of Healthcare Fraud in the USA

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In June 2018, the US Department of Justice held nearly 600 individuals, including doctors, responsible for the largest healthcare fraud in the US history resulting in losses of over US$2 billion. Each year, the American healthcare system loses tens of millions of dollars to fraudulent claims not only overloading the healthcare system but also affecting the security and identity of patients and other citizens. To combat the ill effects of healthcare fraud, the government is laying strict measures to monitor such incidents and is using artificial intelligence (AI) to identify threats before they actually occur.

Out of the country’s total health expenditure, estimated to have to crossed US$3.5 trillion mark in 2018, as much as 10% is lost annually due to healthcare fraud (examples include billing for services not provided, providing services not medically needed, and reporting patients as having a more severe illness in order to obtain higher reimbursement), bleeding not only taxpayers’ money but also billions of dollars from the healthcare system.

Over the past decade, reduction in the number of fraud cases in healthcare programs has emerged as a significant priority for the US government and other federal agencies – US Department of Health & Human Services, Office of Inspector General (HHS OIG), the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), and the US Department of Justice (DOJ). These agencies make laws, use anti-fraud tools, and also partner with private sector to help protect consumers against healthcare fraud.

A Ripple Effect of US Healthcare Fraud on Consumers and Healthcare System

Anti-Fraud Laws

The need to curb the exploitation of healthcare system by healthcare providers for illegal gains has led to the formation of laws that fight fraudsters, ensuring better quality and more equal medical care to all. These laws assist physicians, if they comply by them, to easily identify the red flags with regards to their relation with payers, other physicians and healthcare providers, and vendors. These are:

  • False Claims Act (FCA) – enacted in 1863, this civil law prohibits the submission of false claims to the government

  • Anti-Kickback Statute (AKS) – this criminal law, enacted in 1972 and enforced in the mid-1980’s, prohibits willfully offering, paying, soliciting, or receiving any remuneration directly or indirectly for referrals of federal healthcare program

  • Physician Self-Referral Law (Stark Law) – introduced in 1988, this law limits physician referrals in case of a financial relationship with the entity

  • Criminal Healthcare Fraud Statute – As part of the US Code (18 U.S.C. § 1347), this statute prohibits willfully executing, or attempting to execute, a scheme to defraud any healthcare benefit program or obtain any money under any healthcare benefit program

  • Civil Monetary Penalties Law (CMPL) – As part of the US Code (42 USC § 1320a-7a), it prohibits willfully executing of a scheme or use false statements to obtain funds held by a federal healthcare program

  • Exclusions – legally excludes participation of healthcare providers and suppliers in all healthcare programs if convicted of criminal offenses

Policymakers have established these laws to minimize, or at least reduce, healthcare fraud. The laws have contributed, for instance, to the US government being successful in finding parties responsible for healthcare fraud, mainly due to FCA, especially in the form of information coming from whistleblowers. Under the act, there are financial incentives for whistleblowers, who bring healthcare fraud to the attention of the government, receiving 15% to 30% amount of the total recovery. Incentivizing whistleblowers has been successful – through aid from private individuals and units or individuals serving as whistleblowers, the government has been able to recover more than US$31 billion of taxpayers’ funds over the past thirty years.

Anti-Fraud Partnerships

The government is also focusing on strategic partnerships with other private agencies to fight fraud, which include:

  • Healthcare Fraud Prevention Partnership (HFPP) – A public/private partnership between the federal government, state agencies, law enforcement, private health insurance providers, employer organizations, and healthcare anti-fraud associations with the purpose of exchanging data, building competence and proficiency to fight fraud. Since its inception in 2012 till the end 2017, the number of public, private, and state partner organizations as participants of the partnership reached 85

  • Healthcare Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team (HEAT) – established as a conjoint effort between DOJ, OIG, and HHS in 2009. The purpose of this partnership is to invest in new resources and technology to prevent fraud, reduce healthcare costs and improve the quality of care, and highlight best practices by providers and public sector employees

  • Medicare Fraud Strike Force – launched in 2007, resources from federal, state, and local law enforcement entities come together to prevent and combat healthcare fraud by harnessing data analytics and exploratory intelligence

  • Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) – a federal agency, established in 1965, administers and oversees medical programs by partnering with individuals, contractors, entities, and law enforcement agencies

  • Office of Inspector General (OIG) – founded in 1976, its purpose is to protect the integrity of HHS programs as well as the welfare of the beneficiaries of those programs

  • Center for Program Integrity (CPI) – established in 2006, it promotes the integrity of health programs by monitoring and identifying program vulnerabilities through audits and policy reviews

  • General Services Administration (GSA) – an independent agency of the US government formed in 1949 that maintains the Excluded Parties List System (EPLS) that includes information on entities suspended, disqualified, and/or excluded from receiving contract, financial assistance, and other benefits

Such partnerships and agencies help prevent healthcare fraud on a national scale, to a certain extent, as they take substantive actions to stop fraudulent payments thus improving the overall process of monitoring fraud.

In efforts to combat fraud committed against all health plans, both public and private, the Healthcare Fraud and Abuse Control (HCFAC) Program was established in 1997, under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). The program was designed to coordinate federal, state, and local law enforcement activities with respect to healthcare fraud and abuse. Under the program, each year, funds are allotted to the various offices of HHS and DOJ to support the effective and smooth functioning of the programs and partnerships directed towards identifying and fighting fraud in healthcare sector. In 2017, a little above US$1 billion was allocated and over US$2.4 billion was recovered in healthcare fraud judgments and settlements and around US$2.6 billion (including amount assimilated from preceding years) was returned to the government or paid to private persons. The program yielded an ROI of US$4.2 for every dollar spent for the period 2015-2017.

Senior Medicare Patrols (SMPs)

Senior Medicare Patrols (SMPs) are grant-funded projects of the federal US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), US Administration for Community Living (ACL), Administration on Aging (AoA) – an agency providing leadership and expertise on programs, advocacy, and initiatives affecting older adults and their caregivers and families. These grants are supported by SMP National Resource Center, created in 1997 as a demonstration project in 12 regions moved on to become a nationwide program in 2003 and now includes 54 SMP programs across all the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.

ACL issues a new request for proposals for the program every three years, and then awards grants to a selected project across all regions (each US state, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands). Since 2016, SMP grants are funded as discretionary projects by HHS operating division, ACL, through the Healthcare Fraud and Abuse Control Program (HCFAC) – a program designed to coordinate federal, state, and local law enforcement activities with respect to healthcare fraud and abuse. The resource center, through these projects, reaches out to approximately two million beneficiaries each year via 5,000 volunteers associated with the SMP program.

These projects, through trained volunteer workforce, provide education and assistance to Medicare beneficiaries, their families, and caregivers to identify, prevent, and report healthcare fraud. These groups also help protect elderly persons’ health records, financials, and medical identity. Moreover, they provide assistance, when issues are identified, about whether or not fraud is suspected by referring to the appropriate authorities for further investigation.

Data Analytic Tools

An effective way to prevent fraud in healthcare system is to identify it before claims are paid, and data examination capabilities such as data analysis, predictive analytics, trend evaluation, and data modeling approaches can be utilized to analyze and examine fraud patterns.

Data analytic tools can identify fraud patterns by developing a certain set of rules. One can set up a ‘rule’ or an ‘alarm’ for identifying fraud related to medical expertise – a healthcare provider claiming for a procedure outside his area of expertise or when the claim crosses a certain amount for a particular test or treatment. These tools use AI, continuously mine data, and identify patterns thus enabling the user to set new rules or alarms.

Up to 30% of total healthcare expenditures in the USA are estimated to be related to fraud, waste, abuse, and errors – a key contributor to soaring healthcare costs in the country. Analytic tools, by tracking fraudulent payments have helped in cutting down costs related to fraud and abuse. In 2014, CMS prevented more than US$210.7 million in healthcare fraud using predictive analytics. In addition, the tool also enables CMS to assign risk scores to specific claims or providers, spot claim irregularities or errors that were earlier hard to detect, and identify inconsistent billing patterns thus eliminating future potential fraud.

Government authorities are not the only entities to use data analysis for monitoring and tracking purposes. Insurance companies are also using similar tools to reap benefits and reduce fraudulent payouts. For instance, United Healthcare, a US-based healthcare and benefits services provider that manages more than one million claims every day, transitioned to a predictive modeling environment based on Hadoop big data platform. The company claims to have spawned a 2,200% return on their investment in big data technology.

EOS Perspective

The healthcare system in the USA is considered unstable with no sufficient policies in place to regulate the healthcare pricing. In addition to exorbitant prices, over the years, increasing cases of fraud have not only overburdened the healthcare system but also consumers, contributing to large number of personal bankruptcies due to healthcare treatments being disproportionately expensive. Moreover, as the spending on healthcare is projected to rise rapidly in the coming years – CMS projected healthcare spending to reach nearly US$5.5 trillion by 2025, the cost of healthcare fraud is likely to follow suit, resulting in weighing down the consumers even more as they bear the costs of fraud, topped with an existing unaffordable exorbitant healthcare, thus worsening the situation altogether.

Healthcare fraud is a grave problem and affects the entire healthcare system including patients, government, and insurance companies. The foremost effect of fraud perpetrated by healthcare providers is experienced by consumers as this drains the taxpayers’ pockets in the form of higher insurance premiums, reduced benefits, and overall coverage.

In the USA, insurance fraud accounts for approximately $30 billion in lost revenue for the insurance industry and fraud related to healthcare is the second most common form of fraud after vehicle theft. While it is almost impossible to determine how much health insurers lose every year to fraud cases, as low as 5%, or even less, of these losses are recovered annually. The downside is that the heightened cost of fraud and errors are borne by the customers as the companies translate this loss into higher premiums. This deters many individuals from purchasing insurance policies, which makes them unprotected in case of serious diseases and injuries due to reduced medical coverage (or complete lack of it).

Healthcare fraud is a financial gutter in the healthcare system that not only strips individuals of health benefits and insurance companies of money but also results in higher taxes and budgetary nuisances for the government.

Besides increasing the economic costs, such fraud cases extensively affect an individual’s medical identity. In 2017, of total identity thefts reported in US, nearly 3% were related to medical theft standing at a number of 134,260 cases; the overall tally, however, is anticipated to be much higher as the count of incidents unaccounted for remains unknown. Cases of medical identity theft result in misuse of an individual’s medical information that can cause dire consequences.

Each individual is issued a Medicare number, a unique identification number, as part of the national health insurance program. As these Medicare numbers are distinctive and cannot be changed, unless issued a new one, once compromised, such fraud cases put the person’s healthcare and future benefits at a huge risk. The victim could end up receiving wrong medical treatment or, in some cases, even die due to altered or misrepresented medical records as a case of identity fraud. In addition, medical identity theft also impacts an individual financial stability related to medical concerns – the fraudster ends up claiming the treatment amount in medical bills from insurance company, when the victim actually approaches the insurance company to file a legitimate claim, he is informed that he has already reaped the benefits, thus orphaning the victim of his right to medical care. As an extreme repercussion, victims may also have to deal with legal authorities over false allegations of procuring and possessing illegal drugs.

Given the impact on individuals, medical system, and economy, it is clear that healthcare fraud is a costly problem and a critical threat to the US economy as it not only increases healthcare costs for everyone but also affects common people leaving them incapacitated and vulnerable. While the government has achieved some triumph, over the last few years, in detecting fraud cases and punishing the wrong-doers, the success rate of detecting such frauds is always questionable.

At this stage, though immense efforts are being bestowed in formulating laws and technological investments being made to identify impostors, it is very difficult to ascertain what the government has accomplished, as fraud related to healthcare cannot only be measured in terms of monetary loss. The measure should also include the extent of safeguarding the interest and identity of the citizens, and the degree to which this has been achieved is debatable. It must be noted, however, that in the current scenario, where the key focus is on reducing the rate of fraud in the healthcare sector, while keeping the overall healthcare costs in check, the task in hand for the American government is of mammoth scale.

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Driving Down Healthcare Costs with AR and VR Technology

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Augmented Reality (AR) delivers digital components atop an existing reality in order to make it more meaningful and interactive, while Virtual Reality (VR) enables immersive simulation of real-life setting or environment. AR and VR have wide-reaching applications in healthcare, from treatment and therapy to training and education. Though AR and VR have promising applications in healthcare, are these technologies prime for widespread adoption? This will largely depend on how effective these technologies are in relation to its cost of investment. Some of the AR and VR solutions standout to bring in significant cost savings.

In 2015, based on analysis of 80,000 surgical cases (retrieved from 2010 National Inpatient Sample, USA), Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine estimated that if all US hospitals increased the number of minimally-invasive procedures by 50%, nearly 3,600 complications could be avoided and hospital stays could be cut by 144,863 patient days, resulting in total cost savings of about US$288 million annually.

Augmented reality can offer higher accuracy

Despite such evident advantages, minimally-invasive surgeries are not as common as traditional approaches, because they require high precision and accuracy – and that is exactly where AR can be useful. For instance, Philips, a Dutch medical technology company, developed a real-time imaging solution which allows projection of high-resolution 3D image of the patient’s spine and a fully-automatic AR navigation system which guides the surgeon to plan the optimal device path, and subsequently place pedicle screws. The first pre-clinical study on the technology showed that the use of AR technology resulted in 85% accuracy as compared to 64% accuracy in case of conventional techniques. Using AR technology, doctors can perform minimally-invasive surgical procedures with high level of precision and efficiency, while minimizing mistakes and errors, thus reducing the preventable costs.

The first pre-clinical study on the technology showed that the use of AR technology resulted in 85% accuracy as compared to 64% accuracy in case of conventional techniques.

Remote mentoring and assistance delivered through augmented reality

Tele-mentoring is another practical application of AR which can bring considerable cost savings. In some complex cases, the locally available healthcare professionals are not skilled and experienced enough to carry out the procedure and experts from different cities or countries need to be called in to perform the treatment, and this involves a lot of time and costs. There are certain AR platforms that allow experts from remote locations to virtually join a surgical procedure. Using Google Glass or tablet, a real-time projection of the remotely located expert’s hands could be overlaid onto the local surgeon’s field of sight during the procedure.

In 2016, as a part of ongoing neurosurgical collaboration between Children’s of Alabama Hospital (USA) and Children’s Hospital in Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam), Virtual Interactive Presence and Augmented Reality (VIPAR) telecommunication system was implemented at both hospitals to provide intraoperative assistance. The cost of setting up the hardware, software, and internet connection (for one year) was around US$2,500. This is far less in comparison to the cost of the American experts’ travel and stay in Vietnam. For instance, the expense of sending a team of three doctors from the USA to Vietnam for 14 days could total to around US$12,500.

Virtual reality could be an alternative to opioids

VR therapy is proving to be effective in providing relief from pain. Several studies have suggested that parts of the brain linked to pain-somatosensory cortex and the insula are less active when patients are distracted by an immersive experience created by VR technology, thereby reducing the pain. A clinical study by AppliedVR, a US-based company building VR platform for use in healthcare, suggested that VR therapy was effective in reducing pain by 52%.

This can prove to be a breakthrough in the field of pain management, and possibly reduce the opioid prescription. High-income countries such as the USA, Canada, UK, and Australia are struggling with the opioid crisis. Although, the cost of opioids is relatively low, the resulting addiction problems and drug overdose deaths lead to high societal and economic costs. For instance, the economic cost of the opioid crisis in the USA in 2015 was estimated at US$504 billion (85% of these costs were associated with fatalities resulting from overdose). This was equivalent to about 2.8% of GDP of the country that year. For countries such as the USA, where opioid epidemic is declared as a public health emergency, there is a high demand for non-addictive, less harmful alternative pain therapy such one delivered through as VR.

The economic cost of the opioid crisis in the USA in 2015 was estimated at US$504 billion, equivalent to 2.8% of GDP of the country. For such countries, there is a high demand for non-addictive, less harmful alternative pain therapy such as one delivered through VR.

Virtual visualization can reduce the cost of training

VR-based medical training through immersive visualizations is proven to be more effective than conventional teaching methods. In 2015, Miami Children’s Health System claimed that the medical professionals could retain as much as 80% of the information from a VR training session, compared to 20% retention level with traditional teaching methods.

VR can also help to significantly reduce medical training costs. For instance, elderly care facilities in the USA spend on average US$3,000 per employee to teach tracheal insertion through traditional methods; however, Next Galaxy, a US-based company, developed a VR software that will bring down the cost of training per employee to US$40. This VR software uses leap motion force feedback technology which enables the medical professionals to sense when the procedure is going wrong. As a result, this tool can create a realistic scenario, and medical professionals can have nearly hands-on experience of performing the procedure in a safe and controlled training environment, without risking the life of a patient, thus saving costs incurred in potential litigations.

EOS Perspective

AR and VR are among the next-generation technologies with the potential to transform healthcare. There is a consensus amongst analysts that a healthy growth of the global AR and VR in healthcare market can be expected over the coming years. For instance, a research company MarketsandMarkets estimated the market size at US$769.2 million in 2017, with forecast growth at a CAGR of 36.6% to reach US$4,997.9 million by 2023. Similarly, another research firm, Key Market Insights, expects the market to reach to US$5.6 billion by 2022. Several clinical studies indicate that innovative techniques powered by AR and VR are more efficient and effective over conventional methods, thus spurring the interest of private companies and in turn, expanding the market space.

Though AR and VR technologies offer significant opportunities for cost savings, the cost of investment in such new and emerging technologies is also an essential point of consideration.

There is high uptake of VR applications that are compatible with consumer-grade VR headsets such as Google Cardboard, Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, etc. These devices have already reached mainstream use. Moreover, as the technology matures, the competition is increasing, further driving down the price of the devices; for instance, in 2017, Oculus Rift (headset with motion sensor controller) was priced at US$399, half of its launch price in 2016. Increasing use of more affordable consumer-grade VR devices for healthcare applications will further bring down the cost of investment, thereby driving adoption of the VR technology in the sector.

Increasing use of more affordable consumer-grade VR devices for healthcare applications will further bring down the cost of investment, thereby driving adoption of the VR technology in the sector.

While AR headsets and smart glasses such as Microsoft HoloLens and Google Glass are still in trial version, some of the AR applications can be experienced on any smartphone/tablet without the need of headset or controllers, thus making it more accessible and affordable; for instance, EyeDecide, developed by OrcaMD, is an AR-based mobile app that simulates patient’s vision to demonstrate their actual medical condition. Such applications, which are priced as low as US$1.99 to US$4.99, can be widely used to enhance patient experience.

Healthcare organizations could leverage AR and VR technology to improve efficiency and quality of service and enhance patient care while cutting costs. Moreover, as these technologies are reaching mainstream, the cost of investment is expected to go down. Thus, AR and VR technologies are proving to deliver more value while reducing overall costs.

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Modicare: Which States Matter the Most?

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Dubbed as ‘Modicare’ (named after the Indian prime minister), India’s National Health Protection Scheme (NHPS) is being considered as the world’s largest government funded healthcare scheme. The scheme is expected to benefit 500 million people by providing them with cover for secondary and tertiary care hospitalization. While the recent press around the scheme focuses largely on the implementation and funding challenges, we are looking at Modicare from the perspective of opportunities it will bring to the table for healthcare industry players.

Announced during the 2018 union budget, NHPS is a government-funded secondary and tertiary healthcare plan aimed at 100 million financially vulnerable families, referred to as Below Poverty Line (BPL) families, in India. Expected to be launched on 2nd October 2018, NHPS will replace the existing central-government-operated Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana (RSBY), which provides an annual insurance cover of INR30,000 (~US$460) for a family of maximum five members, and is operational in only 15 (out of total 29) Indian states. The new scheme will offer insurance cover of INR500,000 (~US$7,700) per family.


NHPS is expected to provide secondary and tertiary healthcare access to more than 40% of the Indian population, which was earlier deprived of it due to financial constraints. This will create a new healthcare market, giving boost to the entire healthcare ecosystem in India. Companies across the entire healthcare value chain, including medical education providers, healthcare service providers, construction firms, pharmaceutical and medical devices companies, etc., are expected to witness ample growth opportunities. One can expect increased investments in the Indian healthcare sector by private companies as well as foreign investors.

Since the scheme is aimed primarily at making healthcare affordable and accessible for BPL population, opportunities will be up for grabs for companies to tap and expand their reach in areas where the BPL population resides in India. Based on the currently available scheme details, we have tried to identify top five states in India that are ripe for opportunities with the expected launch of the new scheme.

EOS Perspective

Taking into account various factors, including red tape, electricity supply, political stability, etc., as well as the current state of healthcare infrastructure and BPL population, we project the states of Uttar Pradesh (UP), Bihar, Telangana, Madhya Pradesh (MP), and West Bengal (WB) will be most attractive for healthcare industry players.

Uttar Pradesh offers greatest opportunities on the basis of a large BPL population residing in it. The state boasts of a robust road infrastructure and a stable political climate. UP has legacy issues related to administrative challenges, however, the state has taken major steps in cutting the red tape.

Madhya Pradesh is the leading state in India in terms of ease of doing business. The state has electricity surplus, with good road infrastructure, and reasonably priced real estate (as compared with the remaining four states), making it an ideal destination to invest.

One of the largest BPL populations resides in Bihar, a fact that makes it one of the most attractive markets expected to be created after the introduction of NHPS. However, the administrative bottlenecks and lack of infrastructure (as compared with the other four states) may act as constraints for the market players in realizing the full potential.

Telangana, a newly formed state, offers excellent opportunities due to a reasonably large BPL population. The state has performed well on administrative reforms front, and it is expected to improve infrastructure (including electricity availability) in the future, to make it more attractive.

West Bengal has shown remarkable improvement in the field of administrative reforms (in cutting of the red tape), to make it one of the most attractive destinations for any industry. It has to focus more on further improvement in the infrastructure to make it a natural choice for the industry players to invest in the state.

In the end, the realization of the opportunities will depend on smooth as well as quick implementation of the scheme across India. At the outset, NHPS offers promising future for healthcare industry across the nation in general, and the five highlighted states in particular.


Ranking Methodology

  • EOS assessed attractiveness (in terms of opportunities for healthcare industry players) of all Indian states on the basis of a scorecard

  • States were ranked on selected parameters, i.e. size of the market and other factors (termed as ‘market enablers’) that are likely to influence decision-makers to prefer one state over another while planning to invest to tap the opportunities created post the launch of NHPS

  • Maximum score (awarded for first rank) for each parameter was fixed based on its relative importance (weightage); scores awarded for subsequent ranks (on each parameter) were a percentage (decreasing in accordance with the rank) of maximum score

  • The final score (and hence the overall rank) was the summation of individual scores on all parameters

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Big Data Analytics: A Revolution for the Healthcare Sector

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Big data analytics is beginning to transform the healthcare sector by forging new pathways that lead to data transparency, reduction in healthcare costs, and improved patient outcome through better quality of healthcare services. Traditionally, physicians used their clinical judgment to make treatment-related decisions but over the last few years, the trend has shifted towards evidence-based decision-making by leveraging big data analytics, which correlates massive amount of data to provide quick analysis. Big data analytics is slowly changing the way data is managed, analyzed, and leveraged. Although the big data revolution is at an initial stage of its implementation in this sector and most of its potential for innovation and value creation is yet to be realized, it has already directed the healthcare industry on a path of rapid change and improvement.

In an era where healthcare data exists across different sources and formats – such as images, videos, texts, numerical data, etc. – such an enormous amount of data is incredibly complex and difficult to sort, organize, decipher, and manage. This is where big data analytics steps in. It aids in analyzing structured and unstructured data across multiple data sources, which helps to improve accuracy of diagnosing patient conditions and matching treatments with outcomes. Applying analytics in healthcare could reduce treatment costs, forecast outbreaks of epidemics, avoid preventable diseases, and most importantly, improve quality of life through better medical services.

Big data analytics has tremendous potential to cut down the spiraling healthcare costs. Analytics could be used to reduce preventable emergency room visits and hospitalizations, eliminate unnecessary lab tests, reduce inefficiencies, and avert security breaches and frauds, among others. Some key applications of analytics in healthcare include electronic health records (EHR), predictive analysis, real-time alerting system.

The EHR marketplace, part of big data analytics for healthcare market, in the USA is dominated by suppliers such as Epic Systems (a USA-based organization that develops software for healthcare sector) which held a market share of 22% in 2015. The EHR supplier landscape is consolidated at the top end, with three leaders (Epic Systems, Cerner, and Meditech) occupying majority share of 55% in the market in 2015.

Another segment of the big data analytics for healthcare, i.e. business intelligence market dealing with business intelligence tools support several major big data functions within hospital such as predictive analysis, clinical decision support, clinical workflow optimization, population health management, and financial performance modeling, is fragmented, unlike EHR. While Epic Systems occupies a sizeable portion of the business intelligence market (25% market share), over ninety vendors accounted for further 25% combined share of suppliers operating in the market in 2015.

EOS Perspective

For the longest time, healthcare has lagged behind other industries, such as banking and retail, in the use of big data. However, healthcare sector is now ripe for big data initiatives, which have the potential to completely transform the quality of healthcare services by offering a wide array of applications for predictive analytics, evidence-based accurate treatment decision-making, potential cure for complex diseases, improving clinical documentation, among many others.

For big data analytics to fully succeed, the healthcare industry must undergo few fundamental changes, so that the stakeholders can take advantage of big data. Some issues in the industry arise from resistance to change, as healthcare providers are accustomed to making treatment decisions independently, rather than relying on automation and analytics. Healthcare professionals need to shift from standard regression-based methods to more future-oriented techniques such as predictive analytics, machine learning, and graph analytics that can improve and quicken decision-making and treatment-related judgement.

Other obstacles are structural in nature – several healthcare professionals have chosen to underinvest in information technology because of unsure returns. Additionally, some hindrances stem from the nature of the healthcare sector itself. With presence of several players in the industry, it is not easy to share data with different providers or facilities due to privacy concerns, which hinders the use of analytics on data sets.

Currently, implementation of big data technology in healthcare is limited and mostly concentrated in the USA, largely due to the high infrastructure costs and hefty initial investment. Furthermore, the human expertise required to leverage healthcare analytics lags behind. Nonetheless, healthcare professionals are beginning to understand the value of leveraging volumes of patient data and efforts are being made to overcome all barriers.

Healthcare professionals are beginning to understand the value of leveraging volumes of patient data and efforts are being made to overcome all barriers.

Big data has the potential to completely revamp the healthcare sector, in the same way it has transformed several other industries. Besides reducing costs, big data initiatives could save many lives and improve patient outcomes. Pharmaceutical industry experts, payers, and providers are slowly starting to analyze big data to obtain insights. Although such efforts are in the preliminary stages, collectively they could help the industry to tackle issues such as variability in quality of healthcare and growing healthcare spend. Healthcare stakeholders who decide to invest in data capabilities and promote data transparency will not only achieve a competitive edge but will also lead the healthcare industry into a new era.


*Brief description of healthcare organizations – refer to the infographic

  1. USA-based healthcare organizations – MemorialCare Hospital, Parkland Hospital, Beaufort Memorial Hospital, Kaiser Permanente, Emory University Hospital, and UnitedHealthcare
  2. Israel-based organization providing technology/analytical solutions for the healthcare sector –Zebra Medical Vision
  3. USA-based companies providing software, hardware, and technology solutions and services for the healthcare sector – Epic Systems, Cerner, and Meditech
  4. USA-based provider of information technology solution, owned by Xerox – Affiliated Computer Services
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