Russian medicine is critically in need of digitalization, because it is the only solution that can reduce the growing burden on doctors, former Presidential Internet Adviser, Chairman of the Digital Economy Development Fund Herman Klimenko said during an international forum on digital medicine at Sechenov Medical University in Moscow (First MSMU). The current situation is not only due to the shortage of medical personnel, but also to the development of new diagnostic methods, which require doctors to analyze huge amounts of data. A doctor, as a key participant in the medical industry is also its “non-replicable” element, Klimenko said. So, digital solutions must come to the rescue. Artificial intelligence is quite capable of replacing a human for initial analysis of CT and MRI images. Digital medicine also remains extremely attractive for investors, as there is no other industry where demand is growing so fast. However, the most promising niche is health solutions for the aging population, which is growing around the world, Russia being no exception. Herman Klimenko shared some of these solutions in an interview with Invest Foresight.
– What niches in digital medicine are most attractive to investors?
– I would say it is best to invest in old-age-related medicine – anything involving older people. In Russia, the very subject of aged care has been somewhat taboo for a long time, due to free healthcare, socialism and anti-religion policies. Yet, it is the most lucrative niche, because people save money all their lives and then begin spending it. At present, people live for 20-30 years after retirement – and the trend is even improving, also due to the early diagnosis of diseases. In medicine, you give a person a little longer to live, and they spend even more! In this regard, the bulk of people’s spending, when viewed from an investor’s point of view, accounts for old-age-related things. Ophthalmologists operating cataracts know this perfectly, as their patients constitute a whole stratum of population older than 70. Previously, the cataract was a sentence; now it can be cured.
– Speaking of more specific niches, could they involve nursing homes?
– There are some 40,000 retirement homes the United States, with millions of residents. We have 250,000 because there are no spots. A while back, we withdrew all schools, maternity hospitals and nursing homes from enterprises’ balance. Then schools were brought back, and efforts were made to build perinatal centers in large cities. Now we have got older and become aware of our future. So I believe that investments in nursing homes and any project related to aging people will be attractive.
– And what about solutions to fight dementia and cognitive disorders?
– Yes, dementia is an immense problem. We have not taken efforts in this area for a score of reasons. There are cognitive disorder development rates and methods to curb them. When I wrote that I would launch the Institute of Age I was approached by a dozen of companies right away. Here we have the same problem typical of any doctor – that is, their ‘non-replicability’: a psychiatrist cannot see more than ten people a day, while we are now observing a greater demand for doctors shown by elderly people. With every extra year of our lives, we are causing harm to our healthcare system with our demands for doctors, whose number remains the same. Medicine has no chance for developing without introduction of automatization methods, which are currently non-existent.
– What can be done to tackle risks?
– Any investor can lose everything. Of course, things are complicated in the healthcare sector, including as regards regulating mechanisms. But on the other hand, we cannot even imagine the vastness of specific market niches, such as nursing care, as it has not been assessed yet. Moscow has about one million people that need nursing care services. Each nurse would cost RUR 30,000 per month ($460), yet this is a highly dispersed market that no one has ever structured. It is obvious that medicine is a complicated sector – but you might recall how the Xerox company made its way to the USSR. When it succeeded, we began calling every photocopier a xerox. Today, medicine is like a totalitarian Soviet Union: it is very hard to make your way through – but if you make it you win. The process is already underway, and the wall, just like the wall between East and West Germany, is gradually crumbling.
By Olga Blinova