Prashant Singh, Director & CIO, Max Healthcare

The Indian healthcare industry has increased its uptake of information and communications technology (ICT) solutions such as robotics, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and internet of things (IoT) for improving disease diagnostics and healthcare delivery. Going forward, m-health, telemedicine, cloud consulting and big data analytics are set to significantly disrupt the healthcare industry. However, the increase in treatment cost owing to the adoption of high-end technologies remains a key challenge. Prashant Singh, Director & chief executive officer (CIO), Max Healthcare, talks about the emerging IT trends in the industry, the status of technology adoption and the future outlook…

What are the key ICT trends shaping the Indian healthcare sector? What are the ICT initiatives taken by your organisation?

IoT is emerging as a big trend and we have implemented a few use cases of the same at Max Healthcare. We have also taken steps in the areas of AI and ML, and currently have six to seven ongoing projects. AI is specifically being used in the radiology space. There are a few other use cases in the fields of disease prediction, pathology and patient bill estimation. Software-defined wide area network (SD-WAN) is another technology that is gaining traction and we, at Max, are exploring and evaluating its implementation as we see a lot of benefits resulting from it. Further, we have more than a decade-long repository of electronic medical records with us, and are trying to leverage this data for process efficiencies and clinical analytics.

At the patient level, we are using telecom solutions to provide a better experience. For example, a patient should have a single console through which multiple requests can be raised to various departments. We are amongst the few healthcare providers in India that are using bar-coded medication administration in order to reduce errors.

What are the key challenges faced while deploying new-age technology solutions? How can they be resolved?

Among various other challenges, cost is the biggest impediment in the adoption of newer technologies as it translates into an increase in treatment expenses. Looking at the doctor patient ratio, it becomes challenging to expect a real-time structured data entry by doctors in the electronic medical record (EMR). Any new technology that has to be tested in a real life scenario needs a lot of efforts, time and money and, in a few instances, it delays and disrupts operations.

What are the key areas in the Indian healthcare industry where new-age technologies such as AI, ML, IoT and cloud can be deployed?

AI is certainly the next big thing in radiology, pathology and other areas in healthcare. Further, IoT devices are used for continuous patient monitoring. These devices not only provide movement flexibility, but also help in home health monitoring.

One of the ways in which the medical industry has improved and enhanced is through the use of 3D printers. 3D printing in healthcare makes it possible for medical professionals to provide patients with new forms of treatment. 3D printing is used for the development of new surgical cutting and drill guides and prosthetics, as well as the creation of patient-specific replicas of bones, organs and blood vessels.

How do you think deployment of the electronic health record (EHR) system potentially transform the healthcare sector? What are the roadblocks in its implementation?

At Max Healthcare, there are two parts to the EHR. One relates to the patient’s OPD journey and the other to when the patient is admitted in the hospital. In the OPD, we are partially compliant as far as the outcome or the benefit of electronic medical records is concerned. EMR benefits us in many ways. For instance, it helps us reduce medication errors, increases patient safety, enhances patient experience and improves transparency. It also helps in concluding clinical research. At Max, we are 60-65 per cent compliant with OP-EMR and 100 per cent with IP-EMR. For the in-patient department, we are using EMR completely, in order entry, bar-coded medicine administration, doctor’s notes and clinical notes, etc. The challenge in EMR adoption is the skewed doctor-patient ratio and at times it becomes difficult for a doctor to make structured data entries into EMR. To this end, speech-to-text conversion technology can be helpful in reducing the typing efforts.

What are the key technology trends to be seen in the healthcare industry over the next few years?

Healthcare is witnessing an increased adoption of AI like a second-opinion platform for oncology as well as for disease prediction. Various IoT devices are being used for mobile health monitoring, which connects doctors with patients. Teleconsult and telemedicine are already helping healthcare reach deeper levels in India. Robotic process automation is another technology that is gaining popularity. It is used for automating various processes in the healthcare delivery system. I can also foresee a growing use of 3D technology for performing complicated surgeries.