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. Arvind Sivaramakrishnan, CIO, Apollo Hospitals, 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?

As the industry is realising the power of data, be it healthcare or non-healthcare, the topmost trend is the incorporation of cognitive learning into enterprise class applications. Cognitive learning is a combination of analytics, AI/ ML, prescriptive algorithms and predictive algorithms. It gives these applications the ability to achieve a higher degree of excellence, compliance, and operational and clinical efficiency. The excellence thus achieved can be service-oriented as well. The second trend is to develop a more intuitive, robust and easy-to-learn user experience (UX), given that people are increasingly adopting electronic systems, primarily mobile technology. So being mobile-enabled, that is, being available in app format makes it easy to use such light devices at various points of care. At the same time, there are certain processes that need to be undertaken on larger screens such as those on traditional desktops. Even for these, the user interface/UX is very important, coming before the activity itself. The third trend is migration to the cloud. This is very important from the standpoints of manageability, total cost of ownership, disaster recovery, business continuity and better technical talent to manage infrastructure. Maintaining electronic information technology systems sometimes becomes a challenge in service organisations such as those in the healthcare industry.

Another technology that I see catching on is telecare, whether in the form of teleconsultation, teleradiology, telepathology, telecardiology, ECG over reads scan, and the tertiary nature of an eICU. With the recent experience of the Covid-19 pandemic, telecare has become even more relevant in ensuring that care, despite the various physical disruptions, is not impaired when it needs to reach a consumer. In such cases, it is also important to ensure that patients are able to get sufficient aftercare and to maintain the care continuum.

Lastly, there is a strong focus on business process engineering, which is an aspect of process maturity and workflow maturity. It ensures that you are able to do the right thing in the right place to get the right outcomes. In healthcare, when processes are well managed, whether in terms of operational efficiency or clinical efficiency, they lead to desirable clinical outcomes.

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

AR/VR is an upcoming area that is still at a nascent stage but has huge potential. These technologies can be put to tremendous use in upskilling people. However, they are still at the early stages also because the cost of such solutions is not in everybody’s reach.

Further, AI, ML, prescriptive and predictive analytics are all about how data can bring insights. These technologies can introduce evidence-based care practices at points of care for clinical pathways, protocols that can guide evidence-based practices to be executed at high levels of quality, and the necessary alerts and reminders to ensure that any deviation from protocol in a care process is well-analysed, thereby achieving the utmost benefit for the patient and the desired care outcome. Introducing these learning algorithms to feed into transactional systems thus helps the point of care, clinical quality and operational quality, while helping achieve good, desirable outcomes at higher degrees. This also improves the speed of diagnosis.

All of them are at early stages of adoption, but they are headed in the right direction. I can see the power of business and technology coming together to find the meaning and relevance of all of this. We must accelerate our pace towards maturity.

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

Aspects of these new-age technologies, particularly virtual medicine, existed prior to the pandemic. Covid-19 facilitated their adoption, acceptance and coming into a reasonable mainstream. Another important benefit of ICT is operational efficiency, which enables us to perform multiple activities. It has also brought into the limelight a recognition of how resources can be deployed and how their potential can be best realised. While I know healthcare is not a candidate for work from home, there are still options as to how you can effectively utilise the power of the resource. Further, a wholesome, healthy mix of physical and virtual is important, so that we are able to do better. The pandemic has thus brought ICT into the front and centre of all business discussions, which are focusing on how ICT can be a powerful force multiplier for advancing business at the right levels of quality, efficiency, maturity, commitment and accountability.

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?

In the Covid era, people have started experiencing remote consultations and remote monitoring at a much higher level than they had been prior to the pandemic. I think that people will find a balance for it. Whether in urban or in rural areas, people are now seeing that healthcare can be provided and consumed via remote health options. Today, people are definitely looking at remote care and monitoring options for the sick and for senior citizens. How can we use e-ICUs to improve ICU services/ monitoring between two healthcare facilities, given the limited number of workers manning our ICUs? For example, we can now provide tele-mentoring for surgeries, whereby an expert surgeon in one hospital can effectively monitor and guide a surgeon performing a surgery in another. In this way, we can harness the best surgical talent. All of this is picking up, and we are going to find the right balance, which is going to be significantly different from what we are used to. These technologies are enabling that level of efficiency, providing realistic options whereby healthcare is both delivered and consumed at the 360 degree level of quality that all of us expect.

Further, people are going to get a lot of guidance from AI and ML. Obviously, we have to find our balance and ensure that we bring in the right levels of governance to constantly monitor and deliver services, so that we never lack quality, efficiency and effectiveness. That aspect of governance and maturity is also a part of our overall solution delivery in the industry.