Numerous advances in technology are happening right in front of us almost on a regular basis reshaping all industries. The healthcare sector is one such example where technology is connecting the dots in the health system as well as narrowing the gap between the private and public sector to remain focused on the single vision of better healthcare delivery to the population of the country.
The Indian healthcare system has undergone one of the biggest changes by incorporating the use of technology to gather data and make it more accessible and usable. By using digital apps and wearable devices data is being uploaded securely on cloud platforms so that clinical trial patients can participate directly from home without the need to travel to study sites. Also, many healthcare providers are adopting the use of telemedicine to make healthcare more accessible to people especially those residing in remote parts of the country. For digital healthcare to succeed, the government also recently launched the Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission that will provide Health ID to people that will contain their health records. The COVID-19 pandemic further accelerated the use of digital technology that allowed public and private health providers to reinvent service delivery and revise policy, collaborate across sectors to introduce innovative approaches and ensure access to care even during these pressing times. With so much to offer and change, technology will continue to play the role of an enabler ushering in a digital revolution for the country’s healthcare sector.
Technology can play a Key Role in the Indian Healthcare System
Scaling up of the healthcare system of the country is one of the top priorities of the Indian government at the moment. This is reflective of this year’s budget allocation for health which was increased to INR 2,23,846 crore in 2021-22, a 137% increase over the previous year. The government is trying to improve public health delivery and huge ongoing investments are being made in infrastructure. Between 2000 and 2014, there was a 370 per cent increase in health expenditure. As healthcare transformation continues to be a critical priority for both the government and private organizations, the adoption of technology can be utilised to address the specific challenges faced in the country. Here are some of the primary healthcare problems that technology can solve for a better and healthier world:
- No access to care in remote areas
- Early detection of health problems
- Wastefulness and un-optimised supply management
- Managing the massive volumes of patient-related data
- Inefficiencies and errors in data sharing
If India is to realise its goal of universal health coverage (UHC), it is imperative that technology and healthcare talk to each other seamlessly. Here’s how technology can be the backbone of growth for the healthcare industry in the years to come:
- A digital health care ecosystem-based platform with traditional and non-traditional health care players can concentrate on promoting healthy lifestyles, vitality, spiritual, mental, and emotional issues and wellness, primary and secondary prevention, and early diagnosis.
- AI can help in precise diagnosis using large sets of clinical data and images for cancer and chronic conditions such as diabetes, cholesterol, cardiac health treatment.
- Big data collected through IoMT and analytics using AI and ML can transform clinical research, treatment protocols increasing virtual care capabilities of health providers.
- Big data analytics can be used to generate actionable insights which can further be used to predict disease outcomes, plan treatment protocols and for strategic organisational planning.
While there’s no doubt that a digitally transformed healthcare system will help ensure a patient-focused approach, helping healthcare providers to streamline their operations and build loyalty and trust amongst their patients but it’s equally important to keep a close watch on patient data security. The healthcare sector deals with sensitive patient information. Offering adequate data security to a large number of connected devices is challenging. Most IoT devices are vulnerable to cyber-attacks, as they do not offer encrypted communication. The impact of a breach is too high as patients trust these devices and are dependent on them for their life.
Emerging Technologies that can reshape the Indian Healthcare Industry
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is commonly defined as the capability of devices to learn on their own without an explicit program and act on the information gathered cognitively. The applicability of AI in health sciences is being enhanced on a regular basis to use it at the very core of the healthcare industry. According to PwC’s 2017 Global Digital IQ Survey, 31 per cent of the global healthcare executives interviewed, rate AI as the most disruptive tech in the industry. AI applications are being developed to digitally represent the physiology of a patient thereby enabling simulations to predict the likely progression of chronic diseases in the future based on choices made today. These simulations assist hospitals, pharmaceutical providers, researchers and insurance providers to better understand choices and therapeutics and their implications for patient’s health outcomes and impact on associated costs.
In India, around 50% of women who are diagnosed with breast cancer die within half a decade. There is a lack of adequate facilities and specialised radiographers. The cost of breast cancer screening is also very high, which makes it unaffordable for most of the population in the country. AI-based cancer screening using machine intelligence over thermographic images has been utilised to develop to a low-cost, easy to operate, portable solution to detect breast cancer that too at a much earlier stage in comparison to traditional diagnostic methods. This can provide a great level of improvement in survival rates. Also, based on the symptoms a patient might be having and comparing them with a library of symptoms, AI is helping physicians save time for medical cases which might require immediate attention. When machines start doing simple tasks, people can work at a higher cognitive level—and the need to work 24/7 reduces.
Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) refers to the worldwide network of interconnected medical devices and applications. The Indian healthcare sector stands to gain significantly from this technology with its application in both clinical as well as non-clinical scenarios. Here’s how:
In-patient continuous monitoring of patients whose conditions require vital signs to be monitored more regularly can alert doctors of patient health deterioration, leading to quicker recovery and lower cost of treatment. For example, post operation patintes and those with chronic diseases require continuous monitoring; however, a small nurse to patient ratio in ICUs may lead to complications and/or death, as patients’ vitals may change tremendously over a short amount of time. Continuous monitoring would transmit data about patients to nurses continuously, allowing for earlier detection, recognition, and treatment of any abnormalities in a patient’s condition.
Personal Emergency Response Systems
Several products are already well established and serve many needs of seniors, inside and outside of their residences, such as fall detection, emergency assistance and navigation guidance back to residence (for dementia patients, for example) or even boundary perimeter breach alerts (for Alzheimer’s patients, for example). Some products even include additional features such as medication reminders.
Smart Senior Homes
Care staff can monitor seniors with the use of wrist-worn wearables that track their location as well as activities performed (such as bathing, walking, sleeping, etc.). Wearables allow seniors to request assistance with the touch of one button and will soon also provide two-way audio communication with care staff.
Blockchain has plenty of applications and uses in healthcare. The ledger technology assists in the secure transfer of patient medical records, manages the medicine supply chain and helps researchers unlock genetic code. Keeping important medical data secure is the most preferred blockchain healthcare application at the moment. Security is a major issue in the healthcare industry. Between 2009 and 2017, more than 176 million records of patients were exposed in data breaches. Blockchain’s has the ability to keep a decentralized, incorruptible and transparent log of all patient data makes it a technology ideal for security applications. On top of that, while blockchain is transparent it is also private, concealing the identity of any individual with complex and secure codes that can protect the sensitivity of medical data. Estonia began using blockchain technology in 2012 to secure healthcare data and process transactions. Now the country’s entire healthcare billing is handled on a blockchain.
Robotics Process Automation
The RPA solutions prevalent in the healthcare industry can be described as software that orchestrates other applications and performs tedious back-office tasks on its own, thus freeing healthcare workers’ time for diagnostic work and meaningful doctor-patient interactions. In particular, intelligent software agents are good at processing transactions, manipulating data, triggering responses, and conversing with internal and external IT systems.
Thus, from operations in different healthcare organizations to manufacturers of pharmaceuticals, technology is going to play a key role in organizing processes and making healthcare more accessible. Interoperability and data sharing are going to become increasingly critical for delivering effective healthcare with an ageing population and people living longer. In addition to helping physicians and other healthcare providers see a more complete view of their patients, health data interoperability can help organizations across the healthcare industry. If health information systems are more integrated, then health plans would be able to develop a better understanding of their utilization rates and demand for services. Government service providers would be able to access population data to see trends and meet their citizens’ needs. Also, life science organizations would be able to leverage robust datasets to drive faster, more informed research.