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Hi-tech Healthcare: Technology game changers in the medicare industry

February 27, 2018

Hi-tech Healthcare: Technology game chan...

The need for affordable and high quality healthcare services across the country has prompted the healthcare industry to step up investments in information and communication technology (ICT) solutions. Such solutions have brought about significant improvements in the public health space, providing expert medical care to patients even in the remotest regions of the country. Further, the deployment of ICT applications in healthcare helps in the efficient use of equipment and administration of critical drugs. It also improves service quality, increases patient satisfaction, and leads to better information management and patient monitoring.

In recent times, emerging technologies such as internet of things (IoT), big data analytics, cloud, mobile health (m-health) and robotics have gained traction amongst healthcare enterprises, which were earlier restricted to traditional IT solutions. The adoption of advanced ICT solutions in the industry can be attributed to its privatisation, a shift towards patient-driven healthcare and the increased usage of mobile applications by hospitals. Going forward, artificial intelligence (AI) is expected to be a game changer in healthcare industry.

ICT applications in healthcare

IoT

Several healthcare enterprises have started leveraging IoT for remote health monitoring and real-time tracking of devices used for treating patients. IoT allows medical staff to work remotely and access patient data instantly. It also allows physicians to monitor the out-of-hospital care and predict long-term health pattern of patients with chronic illnesses, and brings together data from various devices, resulting in effective diagnoses. Further, the technology assists in maintenance of medical equipment and enhances functioning of healthcare ICT systems by allowing wireless information sharing. It also provides data on the consumption of medicines and relays information about patients in transit to hospitals and doctors in real time, thereby making emergency care more efficient. Further, with the use of IoT, it becomes easy to monitor the functioning of healthcare units located in rural areas.

Big data analytics

The increasing amount of medical data available has opened up avenues for big data analytics in the healthcare industry. Big data analytics can improve capacity planning and resource management in hospitals. It enables enterprises to examine the impact of lifestyle on a disease by using devices and applications that monitor chronic diseases. The data from these devices is more accurate than self-reported data. Further, the adoption of big data analytics is helping enterprises analyse the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of ailments. Besides, advanced data analysis techniques synthesise and summarise key research, thus enabling doctors to undertake more personalised care without spending hours looking for information. Big data can also assist in follow-up care and long-term care, thus preventing relapse of a disease or readmission of patients.

Cloud technology

Another technology that has gained ground in recent years is cloud. It allows hospitals and doctors to acquire, store, process and secure patient data. This data is then made accessible through a simple mobile interface. Hospitals in India such as Max Healthcare are already using cloud technology. It allows them to securely connect archives of medical information such as radiology images, lab reports and patient charts with the devices of clinicians. This reduces the turnaround time and helps treat a higher number of patients. Further, the proliferation of electronic medical records, hospital information systems, picture archiving and communication systems and other advanced clinical applications is creating a critical need for data storage, which can only be provided by cloud technology. Cloud is emerging as a key tool for collaboration between the government and non-governmental organisations for healthcare projects.

M-health

M-health has also emerged as a key ICT solution in the healthcare space owing to increasing smartphone penetration. With the use of devices such as mobile phones, tablets and wearables like smart watches, m-health applications collect health data, deliver healthcare information, undertake real-time monitoring and provide care through mobile telemedicine. The m-health market has been witnessing explosive growth due to the increasing uptake of mobile technology applications, focus on patient-centric healthcare delivery, technological innovations, integration of wireless technologies, availability of convenient medical devices, and growing affordability of mobile devices.

Robotics

Robotics has gained traction in the country, assisting healthcare professionals, particularly in conducting surgeries. In robotic surgery, very small tools are attached to a robotic arm. With the four-armed “Da Vinci Surgical Robot” developed by US-based Intuitive Surgical, instruments are sent in and controlled by an accomplished surgeon sitting at a nearby console. As per industry estimates, India currently has over 50 surgical robots and 300 trained robotic surgeons, which together conduct about 700 robot-assisted surgeries per month. According to doctors, robotics plays an important role in lung cancer surgery. Robotic surgery also offers immense possibilities in thoracic, urological, gynaecological, colorectal, paediatric and general surgical disciplines. The Vattikuti Foundation is a non-profit organisation that has been actively promoting robotic surgeries across the world, including India. According to the organisation, hospitals like Army Hospital, Delhi; All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Delhi; and Delhi Cancer Institute have already bought the robots, while others such as AIIMS Jodhpur; AIIMS, Rishikesh and Safdarjung Hospital, Delhi are in talks to buy the innovative system.

Challenges in ICT adoption

Although ICT has become a vital tool for healthcare enterprises, there are several challenges in its adoption. The key among them are security issues pertaining to patient information. Given the rise in electronic patient information and the ease of internet access, healthcare enterprises are facing a data security risk. This is because patient records are now being shared with a larger number of external stakeholders including patients and referring physicians that are connected to the network. Further, healthcare enterprises seldom have any software or infrastructure to protect their database, making patient information susceptible to cyberattacks. Therefore, a mobile storage and retrieval system needs to be developed that is capable of handling such sensitive data and is resilient to external intrusions and other security threats.

Healthcare service providers also face several problems while designing and implementing healthcare management systems. This is because different organisations have different software requirements, depending on the size of the hospital, management systems and infrastructure. Hence, a high degree of customisation is required, with specific software programs for each organisation. To this end, certain common design standards that satisfy the requirements of most healthcare enterprises need to be developed in the country. While these are employed in the US, Indian health care is yet to witness the development of such standards.

Another major challenge is the lack of technical training among healthcare professionals for using ICT solutions. The lack of public awareness and poor digital literacy are also responsible for preventing the

widespread adoption of e-health services, particularly in rural areas. Despite online availability of diagnostic reports in certain hospitals, most people prefer to collect printed reports from hospitals in person.

The way ahead

Going forward, advanced analytics, machine learning and AI are expected to gain traction in the healthcare industry. As per industry reports, the healthcare industry will invest $6 billion by end-2021 to incorporate AI in its day-to-day operations. AI-based platforms will enable enterprises to manage medical records by compiling, segregating and analysing important medical data. Further, medical personnel will be able to extract information quickly to take prompt decisions. Moreover, repeat jobs such as checking an X-ray report or CT scans will become faster and easier as AI platforms will deliver complicated cases to doctors while the simpler ones could be analysed by the platform itself. In addition, an AI platform will act as a virtual assistant, informing patients about upcoming consultations, medical tests, etc. Therefore, with its range of applications, AI can prove to be a disruptive technology for the healthcare industry.

 
 

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