Dr K. Hariprasad, President, Apollo Hospitals

There has been increasing uptake of digital technologies across the healthcare sector of late. 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 and cost efficient. In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, mobile health, telemedicine and cloud consulting have gained significant traction. Dr K. Hariprasad, President, Apollo Hospitals talks about the em­er­ging information and communication technology (ICT) trends in the healthcare space, the status of technology adoption and the future outlook…


How has technology transformed the Indian healthcare sector? What are some of the key digital trends?

Today, globalisation, the internet and tech advan­ce­ments have changed the face of a number of in­d­us­tries, and healthcare is one of them. Te­chnology is making the impossible possible, bringing diagnostic techniques and methods of treatment from the realm of our imagination into reality. Healthcare is at the cusp of incredible digital innovation and is expected to grow 10 times in the next five years. The global pandemic has highlighted the fragility of our healthcare eco­system and the dire need for the inclusion of technology solutions, while also acting as a catalyst to fasten the process of trendsetting around the globe, pushing exploration of technological innovations. A huge am­ount of information regarding medical conditions and treatment protocols is genera­ted from medical records. One of the applications of AI is in managing this “big data”. Another area where AI can make a dramatic difference is finding new drugs. AI can help speed up the development of new drugs and make the entire process of clinical trials more cost effective.

What are your views on the e-healthcare trend that has emerged amidst the pandemic? What are your projections for the e-health market going forward?

The digital revolution has changed many aspects of life amidst the pandemic. This year 2021 was a roller coaster year for the healthcare sector, as India faced the devastating second wave of the Covid virus. One of the major transformations in the way healthcare services were provided was seen in the emergence of teleconsultation services. Seeking patient care online was al­ready on the rise when the pandemic struck the country, further amplifying the reach of telehealth services. There’s been almost an 80 per cent rise in consumption of digital healthcare services after Covid-19. Digital technologies such as extended reality, cloud systems, big data and AI are taking centre stage to enhance user experience and increase process efficiency. These technologies have accelerated digital he­al­th, remote patient monitoring and timely clinical protocols.

What are the key use cases of new-age technologies such as AI, internet of things (IoT), cloud, big data, augmented reality (AR)/VR in the healthcare sector? How are you leveraging these solutions?

In recent years, healthcare innovators have brought AI algorithms that arguably read chest X-rays as well as or better than radiologists, inexpensive genomic sequencing that can guide personalised cancer treatments, and vast improvements in population health management through big data and analytics. VR and AR have the potential to dramatically alter clinical research as well as the practice of medicine in real life. VR can take the teaching and learning of medicine to a whole new level. While VR immerses the viewer into a 3D world that is detached from the real world, AR does not make users lose touch with rea­lity. A live view of a real-world environment is augmented or enhanced by computer-generated inputs. These inputs can be in the form of still or moving images, graphics, or sound.

What are some of the challenges encountered while deploying new-age solutions?

Healthcare organisations have been facing unprecedented levels of disruption over the past few years due to the shift in consumer demands and a changing regulatory and compliance landscape. As a result, healthcare professionals are shifting to digitally enabled and patient-centric me­diums, but these digital tech-enabled solutions sometimes harness growth – for example, the growing need to manage chr­onic diseases, the expectations of a growing geriatric population, and the need to provide affordable healthcare to all. With stricter regulations and a stricter compliance landscape, patient safety and information security have assumed more im­portance than ever in the healthcare space. In the Covid scenario, challenges in heal­thcare have increased, not only in developing countries but also in developed countries. In India, for example, there are multiple factors that accentuate the pressure on healthcare. A large population, inadequate infrastructure, shortage of medical professionals, low access to healthcare (especially in remote areas) and high costs require a system that is preventive, in real time, and cost effective.

What is the future of telemedicine in India? How is it expected to transform the sector?

India’s healthcare ecosystem is on the cusp of a paradigm shift. After remaining resistant to reform for the longest time, the sector is now open to innovation and digital technology-driven medical assistance, which became necessities amid the pandemic. Recent research has predicted robust growth in the country’s telemedicine (e-consultation, e-pharmacy) sector between now and 2025 at a 31 per cent CAGR, securing up to $5.5 billion. AI-enabled healthcare services are here to assist providers in non-medical areas as well as share their workload on the operational side. Telemedicine is an important tool that can combat this mismatch and improve the delivery of healthcare services using information and communications technology for the exchange of valid information, helping in diagnosis, treatment and prevention of disease and injuries, research and evaluation, and the continuing education of healthcare providers.