Ashokkan V.R.S., Group Chief Information Officer, Columbia Asia Hospitals

The healthcare industry is realising the power of Information and communications technology (ICT) and is gradually warming up to new technologies. Technology trends such as digital patient engagement, use of internet of things (IoT) solutions for pre-diagnosis, deployment of robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) solutions to improve healthcare professionals’ productivity, and access to virtual healthcare or telemedicine are set to significantly disrupt the healthcare industry. Meanwhile, the scope of big data analytics in the healthcare industry is also immense. Technology leads of enterprises operating in the healthcare space share their views on emerging ICT trends in healthcare, the status of technology adoption and the future outlook…

How have the ICT requirements of the healthcare industry evolved over time? What are the key ICT solutions used by your organisation?

Like every industry, the healthcare industry, too, has undergone many changes through the implementation of various IT systems. Healthcare as an industry deploys very specific solutions that empower hospital operations, as well as common industry solutions such as enterprise resource planning (ERP), analysis and reporting. Some of the key requirements that have emerged are documentation on the go, instant alerts through notifications, workflow efficiency/productivity automation, and intelligent analytics for care delivery and decision-making. The emerging trends in the healthcare industry are powered by technologies such as cloud computing, mobility, AI and IoT.

Columbia Asia believes that IT powers operations to optimise care delivery. We use our proprietary hospital operating software, which has automated hospital operations in a relative value scale, out-patient (OP) processes by 98 per cent and inpatient (IP) processes by 75 per cent. Our proprietary software consists of various modules and functions that relate to hospital information system (HIS), electronic medical record (EMR) and ERP. We also use radiology information system, picture archiving and communication system and laboratory information system to power our ancillary department functioning. New-age solutions that have been deployed in our enterprise are PowerBI-based business intelligence and analytical reporting, a patient engagement platform that provides a patient portal/app and a physician app (in progress), which are interconnected with the HIS/EMR to provide a seamless experience. Columbia Asia has also invested in IT security to support the organisational vision. We have implemented both traditional anti-virus solutions and also top-end data leak prevention systems. Columbia Asia is the first hospital chain to implement digital signature-based document authentication for key documents such as prescriptions and discharge summaries.

What is the scope of big data analytics, AI and IoT in the healthcare industry? What are your plans for leveraging these technologies?

Big data analytics, AI and IoT are seen as boons for this industry as they help provide early detection/care to the community. The three Vs of data in the healthcare industry – volume, velocity and variety – make an ideal sector for technology implementation. We have been hearing doctors/physicians say that each patient is unique, and hence treatment needs to be personalised. Big data an­a­­lytics solutions in my view will help achie­ve this objective. The early detection and decluttering of unuseful data through IoT and AI rule sets will significantly improve the productivity of hospital operations. IoT-powered devices coupled with cloud computing applications will help manage the growing data sets and provide critical/ remote care. At Columbia Asia, we have conducted a couple of pilots in these technologies. We are gearing up internally to put them to use in the coming years. Our IoT pilot is aimed at reducing the data capture effort of our nurses and improving their availability for actual patient care. The AI pilot on radiology has improved reporting accuracy and radiologist productivity.

What roles are telemedicine and m-health pl­ay­­ing in the delivery of healthcare services in India? What is your outlook for these services?

Accessibility and availability of care in the remote areas of the country has been a long-standing issue at the state and country level. With the increasing reach and availability of telecom infrastructure, telemedicine and m-health solutions can find a path to reach the rural masses. These solutions will also help patients stay continuously engag­ed with their care providers to seek support when needed and not when diagnosed.

A large engagement programme at the state and central level should be enabled by health authorities to elevate care delivery to the next level. In this regard, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has initiated various programmes and has also published electronic health record standards. How­ever, industry veterans feel that more is required for a country like India to see through a decent adoption rate.

What are the challenges in managing the IT/telecom infrastructure and deploying new technologies? How can these be resolved?

As compared to a decade ago, the infrastructure has improved phenomenally. It is imperative to note that stable connectivity has been a problem for most enterprises and not just for healthcare enterprises. Affordability and availability of stable infrastructure enabling a connected India is a must as we move towards the adoption of new-age technologies. Capacity building is the only way for solving such huge demands for a country like India.

“A large engagement programme at the state and the central level should be enabled by health authorities to elevate care delivery to the next level.”
Ashokkan V.R.S.

What are the upcoming technology trends that will shape the healthcare industry in the next few years?

Alhough AI, IoT and cloud have been there for close to a decade now, these are still to become the trends that will take the healthcare industry to the next level of care delivery. Along with these technologies, I personally see blockchain joining this bandwagon to support data inconsistency issues that surround the industry.