The healthcare industry is deploying a mix of traditional and disruptive technologies such as mobility, big data analytics, cloud, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to ensure that the overall care process is effective as well as cost-efficient. In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, m-health, telemedicine and cloud consulting have gained significant traction. Ajay Vij, CIO, Fortis Healthcare Limited, talks about the emerging ICT trends in the healthcare space, the status of technology adoption and the future outlook…

What are the technology trends dominating the healthcare space at present?   

  • Telemedicine: Telemedicine or the practice of clinicians seeing patients virtually rather than in person at hospitals increased tremendously during the pandemic.
  • Patient-centric home care: The key characteristics of the patient-centred medical home include comprehensive care, where patients receive care for physical health, mental health, disease prevention, wellness, and acute and chronic conditions.
  • Data privacy and information security: As we are witnessing an unprecedented growth in technology in this digital era, the laxity of the legal regime in catching up with this growth can create problems. To this end, the central government has introduced the draft Digital Information Security in Healthcare Act 2018 (DISHA) for the protection of the digital health data of citizens, which, combined with the Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019 (PDP Bill, 2019), presents a promising future for the data protection regime in India.

Could you highlight some immediate use cases of technologies such as AI, IoT, blockchain, cloud and AR/VR in the Indian healthcare sector?

So far, vaccines, procedures and medicines have been the prime focus of the healthcare industry; however, in recent times AI, voice search, chatbots and VR have emerged as the most promising healthcare technologies. At the top of the list is AI, which helps us to be proactive rather than following a traditional approach. The following are some of the use cases of this technology:

  • Automated reminders that help patients to take medication and plan follow-up visits and diagnostics;
  • Identification of people at high risk and those in need of medical intervention to trigger alerts for the medical staff;
  • Delivery of personalised dosage recommendations, based on the patient’s unique body chemistry and associated environmental factors.

How has Covid-19 impacted your business and operations? How did ICT help you sail through the certain times?

Covid has acted as a catalyst for the healthcare industry. Historically, areas that have been a convenience are now a necessity. The partial lockdown followed by the complete standstill economy led to various challenges, but they subsequently presented many opportunities. Given the ask from our teams to manage and provide 24×7 support to our network, each one of us ensured that there is no disruption in ongoing operations and further enabled our employees to work remotely:

  • Virtual private network (VPN) accounts allowed employees to access corporate network through secured connection over the internet;
  • Virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) helped create a virtual desktop environment to access certain applications securely;
  • Teleconsultation was introduced, which allowed patients and doctors to touch base without being in physical contact;
  • Flu kiosks were created in our hospitals where corona suspected patients undergo the first level of screening virtually without physical contact with doctors.

How are remote monitoring and virtual consultations expected to shape up in a post-Covid era? What are some of the other tech trends that are likely to emerge?

  • Telehealth has helped expand access to medical care at a time when the pandemic has severely restricted patients’ ability to see their doctors. Hence, the pandemic has caused a massive acceleration in the use of telehealth services. The adoption of these facilities among consumers has skyrocketed, from 3 per cent in 2019 to almost 4 per cent now.
  • IT has facilitated home care services, which we started for the first time during the pandemic.
  • Apart from telemedicine, we may see a surge in the following services going forward:
  • On-demand virtual urgent care
  • Virtual home health services
  • Remote monitoring