Munender Soperna, Chief Information Officer, Dr Lal PathLabs

The Covid-19 pandemic pushed the pedal for digitalisation in the healthcare sector, with India witnessing one of the highest adoptions of digital solutions by enterprises. Adequate government support, coupled with continuous technological advancements in the fields of artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), big data, blockchain and internet of things (IoT), continues to facilitate organisations in the healthcare space to provide a superlative patient experience in wider geographies. Munender Soperna, Chief Information Officer, Dr Lal PathLabs, shares his views on the emerging use cases of these technologies, the impact of 5G and the potential of metaverse…

What are the emerging use cases of technologies such as AR, IoT, robotics and AI/ML in the sector? What other technologies do enterprises in the sector leverage?

Healthcare has been one of the most im­pac­ted sectors in terms of technology advan­cements and related adoptions. There has been a consistent influx of technologies and digital transformations over the past four to five years for consistent improvement in healthcare deliveries by healthcare providers. To throw some light on the im­mediate and near-future tech-driven/digital transformation solutions, whi­ch for sure, are going to further ch­ange the overall healthcare experience for the entire country.

  • Point of care and IoT: Healthcare is getting more personalised and easier to use and the healthcare industry is adding more point-of-care devices and IoT-driven gadgets/wearables to track the minutest details of patients.
  • Accessibility to quality healthcare for all: With increasing accessibility of infrastructure such as mobility, internet and social e-platforms, for citizens living in the remotest parts of the country, healthcare providers ha­ve been able to spread the service eq­ually and efficiently.
  • Patient journey mapping: The model of customer service has been transforming into customer engagement wherein providers are trying to map and tap the entire customer journey at each and every touch point, thus in turn, able to serve their customers efficiently and providing a seamless experience to them. Digital te­chnology is the biggest pillar in making this transformation possible.
  • Management of widespread/infectious diseases: The public sector has also been using/ has started using technology in its core initiatives to manage infectious diseases and running state/ co­untrywide programmes. Aaro­gya Setu and CoWin are the most noteworthy examples of te­chnology coming as a saviour in the most complex task of tracking the Covid infection and the vaccination progra­mme for a country of 1.3 billion people. Similarly, central and state governments are coming up with more such programmes to tackle the management of chronic diseases such as tuberculosis and human papillomavirus (HPV) as well, which require patient manage­ment/en­gagement for a longer time period, that is, during the entire medication course and follow-ups as well.
  • Uniqueness of patient and creation of EHR: The central government’s initiatives such as the Ayushman Bharat Di­gital Mission is a classic example of technology being used to solve core issues of pa­ti­ent uniqueness across various heal­thcare providers, across private provi­de­rs and government hospitals. The prog­ramme targets to facilitate every Indian citizen with an Ayushman Bharat Health Account number, which identifies a single individual uniquely across the healthcare providers, and in turn, is able to facilitate the individual to maintain a personalised electronic health record/ vault as well.

AI has widespread usage in healthcare these days. It is at the forefront to assist healthcare providers in use cases such as AI-powered robot-assisted surgeries, natural language processing and computer visions, analysis of unstructured/semi-str­uctured data for diagnosing disease patterns, recommendation engine for disease forecasting and proactive alerting to pa­ti­ents, genome sequencing, etc.

How will the 5G roll-out in India impact telemedicine and digitalisation of healthcare?

One of the most important aspects of a successful transformation is the use of new-age technologies by the masses, sp­read widely across a large geography and that was one of the weak links in the In­dian scenario, with IT infrastructure, es­pecially bandwidth, having a lean penetration in remote parts of the country. Now, with the roll-out of 5G, it is a given as­s­umption that both public and private sectors will pump in more investments in improving the infrastructure for the usage of 5G spectrum. This directly provides opportunities for healthcare providers and consumers in Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities to use the technology available and start the delivery of improved healthcare services.

What are the implementation and security ch­a­llenges while deploying these solutions?

At a time when businesses are consuming and generating more data than ever be­fore, keeping data secure and accessible at any time from anywhere in the world has never been more important. It is im­perative for all organisations to stay compliant with the set frameworks and industry regulations. In our healthcare, regulations are not so hard-lined, and instead, only guidance frameworks exist, which makes our cloud migration trickier. Kee­ping security controls in place is more sig­ni­ficant for us as we manage the health data of patients, which is a sensitive piece of information for our clients/customers. It is a major challenge for all stakeholders to manage security and compliance while going in for digital disruptions and transformations. Movement from private cloud to public cloud, or giving more accessibility to end customers, for enhancing customer experience, makes it imperative for decision-makers of every organisation to have apprehensions about data security. IT leaders are required to plan ample security measures before deployment of any legacy application on to the cloud.

What is the potential of metaverse in the me­di­cal space? What other tech trends do you foresee in the coming years?

The metaverse is a buzzword at the mo­ment and much has been discussed about its potential to revolutionise gaming, en­tertainment, socialising, work and comm­erce. However, comparatively less has been said about its impact in the medical space. The medical fraternity could be the biggest beneficiary of its impact and metaverse can potentially transform the entire healthcare sector. As you must be aware, there are three building blocks of metaverse – telepresence, digital twins and blockchain technology. All the three building blocks can directly be translated into actual practical use cases in the healthcare sector. If you wear a comparative lens you would realise telepresence is proportionally similar to telemedicine and can change the way medical consultations are provided to patients by providers. Although not very near in the future, still, discussions are there to use a digital twin, a dummy patient, of the actual patient for any experimental procedu­re/line of treatment to cut down on any ad­verse or side effects. The most obvious and significant use case for healthcare providers is in the management and security of the highly valuable health data of their consu­mers. Currently, data sharing is often done am­ong multiple organisations in an inefficient and an opaque way and the use of block­chain gives more transparency and seamless measures to exchange the data. The fact that health records are usually stored on centralised servers means that the data is at risk of being stolen, whereas if the block­chain technology is used and data is stored in a distributed fashion on more than one server, access by multiple healthcare stakeholders gets difficult in case of unauthorised access.