Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Economic Times – ET Edge Insights, its management, or its members

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Human life as we know it is the most important asset we have. Without it everything else would be worthless. Years of research have gone into extending the human life span. Sometimes even to a nerdy (most likely silly) extent of becoming immortal and not ageing at the same time. Playing with nature is something most certainly we should not do, but leveraging knowledge and information to improve quality of human life is certainly something we must do.

Healthcare and digital technology have often been spoken about and some work done as well. However no giant strides were made for long. Despite that the buzz about digital and healthcare refuses to die down. There is a reason

  • Healthcare is largely driven around 3 primary entities – the patients and/or consumers, the service providers / care givers / doctors and the institutions
  • We are currently seeing digital and data sciences impacting
    • Patient experience overall – entry, stay and exit
      • E.g. Preventive disease management based on tons of data
    • Care giver and doctor’s experience & ability to provide care based on a lot more data than just their individual acumen (or sometimes collective experience of a couple of specialists)
      • E.g. Validation of clinical acumen with tons of data now digitally available
    • Institutional excellence on the back of efficient operations, research & development
  • The buzz is because technology is revolutionizing most aspects of the 3 core elements of the healthcare industry.

While theoretically the above is understood but this brings us to a pertinent clarification, how exactly will digital and artificial intelligent benefit the healthcare sector.

To answer this question, first let us understand what is Digital and AI.

    • Digital encompasses a group of technologies such as Robotic process automation, machine learning, analytics, IoT, blockchain to name a few. These technologies can generate, store, analyse data and take decisions based on the analyses data across the enterprise, industry, country, globe fundamentally changing the way we work. Core objectives being to create new, personalized experiences, products for consumers, drive efficiencies across enterprises to improve financials and realise benefits across the value chain.
    • Artificial Intelligence is the ability of a machine to mimic the human brain around all aspects including but not limited to, our senses, perception, learning, knowledge representation, reasoning, planning, decision making, dynamically adapting to new contexts. The key here is that an AI solution can operate independently without any human intervention
    • Unlike other technologies, AI truly has the ability to augment human intelligence. Hence the importance and criticality of AI based solutions that can help us get to the root causes, find cures, proactively alter lifestyles that course correct a potentially fatal outcome etc.
    • AI based solutions have the power to unleash improvements in quality (nearing perfection), access (almost available to all), speed (of nearly accurate diagnosis) and costs (least unit cost)

Now let us understand how exactly will AI actually work for healthcare sector

  • Healthcare generates tons of data daily. With several apps available to store, manage and instantly access this data healthcare professionals have a huge opportunity on hand. In addition, connected devices backed up by internet of things (IoT) have become standards for recordkeeping. AI based solutions leverage these data points to provide fascinating predictive analysis for healthcare.
  • As an example, let’s take a patient’s health records that are available in the cloud. Now, when a doctor is diagnosing the patient, using an AI solution they will easily be able to look at symptoms, patient history, environmental and genetic factors to assess and identify the root cause that led to illness. It can also identify future risks the current illness can lead to. All this can be done in a matter of seconds. Since patient records are digitally available, all a doctor has to do is enter the patient’s name into a computer, enter the current symptoms to get the cause of the illness and possible resolutions. Just one generic example of how the capabilities of AI can transform healthcare.
  • Add to this the currently prevalent telemedicine and patients in rural areas can have access to the above

Run of the mill deployment of technology include healthcare management systems, telemedicine etc. However, below are some very interesting use cases of applying Artificial Intelligence in the healthcare sector that would truly go a long way in improving quality of life

      • Support for clinical diagnosis for complex illnesses and personalized medicine
      • AI assisted surgeries
      • Image assessment and diagnosis across radiology
      • Provider end administration, adjudication, fraud detection
      • Optimal medical dosage / drug combinations specific to a patient or ailment. Helps with identifying the right antibiotics drug per the patient’s history there by overcoming the drug resistance issue.
      • Formulating new drug combinations at speed, quality and lower cost
      • Artificial skin grafts to fight skin ailments or help severe burn patients
      • Chip implants to enable lost function e.g. enabling a colour blind person to see correctly
      • Ability to create new vaccines and drugs in the shortest possible time to fight new ailments or organisms or bio terrorism
      • Virtual nursing assistants – these come in handy when ailment symptoms can be diagnosed and addressed without the need of a visit to a hospital. It can also monitor progress or deterioration and alert clinicians when real care is required. Thereby direct patients to the emergency only when emergency care is necessary. There by reducing load on the already overburdened medical staff and infrastructure.

In the context of our country, digitizing the healthcare isn’t easy. It would need focus on 3 core areas amongst a few others

      • One – solutions deployed at hospitals that are used for patients. Reach and impact is low in these cases. Number of hospitals have adopted point solutions across the country but benefits of these are available to barely a handful few.
      • Two – focus on research and enable the startup community to transform healthcare on the back of AI and other related technologies such as IoT, BlockChain etc.
      • Three – setup additional communication infrastructure and leverage existing infrastructure to be able to reach every part of our great nation

While India has taken several steps in the right direction, to transform a country of over a billion people much more needs to be done

      • India started by recognizing the challenge at hand. With the creation of NeHA (National eHealth Authority) we have made a start
      • Then comes creating a policy around it. Digital India, PMs healthcare plan, NITI Aayog’s AI Policy framework focused amongst other things on Healthcare,
      • Ensuring data privacy – With the governments ‘DISHA 2018 (Digital Info Security in Healthcare 2018)’ likely to come into existence this should be taken care
      • Creating an ecosystem of solutions, infrastructure and practitioners
      • The government must leverage global, domestic technology players and startup community for specific solutions e.g. Healthcare solutions built in the cloud.
      • Update medical curriculum to include AI based healthcare and enable reskilling of existing healthcare professionals

Also, for a vast country like India, this transformation needs to happen not just in the urban centers but also in the remote rural areas of the country and consistently for the rich and the poor – health cannot be balanced by spending power. Needless to add, governments must have the right policies, invest the right amount of funds and partner with private institutions to create maximum impact. AI based solutions have the power to unleash improvements in quality (nearing perfection), access and reach (almost available to all irrespective of their location) and costs (least unit cost)

New technology advent brings with it challenges and roadblock in its adoption and AI’s journey in healthcare has been no different. Common setbacks for AI in healthcare include a lack of data exchange across data sources (healthcare providers, insurance companies etc.), regulatory compliance requirements (across countries such as GDPR, Healthcare regulations, etc.) and patient and service provider adoption. In addition, challenges remain around the lack of regulations and rules governing the use of AI

In summary, technology is changing the way healthcare industry operates and enabling them to alleviate pain and enabling people to live healthy and for longer.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Economic Times – ET Edge Insights, its management, or its members

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