We are reeling from the impact of the unprecedented COVID – 19 pandemic, which continues to shake the world. We have found new ways of working, living, doing business. Healthcare has undergone a fundamental shift.
The pandemic has catapulted health to the front of what I call the “mind queue”. There is unprecedented public awareness around health and sanitization, and its impact is acutely felt in a country as diverse and populous as India.
While the Indian Healthcare Market was already growing, it has been propelled further forward, exceeding $350 billion by 2022. This is driven, in part, by increasing digitization in healthcare.
Healthcare IT in India is finally having its day in the sun.
For years, Healthcare IT has been a fragmented market, lacking both standards and structure. With close to 200 Health IT companies competing for a few contracts, this market has traditionally been almost commoditized. Companies would emerge overnight, only to shut down the following day.
2020 has seen an unprecedented increase in investment in Digital Health. Startups like Mfine, Niramai, Onco, and several others have raised significant funding over the last year. Industry stalwarts like GE Healthcare and Siemens Healthineers have placed their bets on Digital Health.
Siemens has planned to invest EUR 160 million in India over the next 5 years. As part of this, the company plans to hire 1800 skilled digital tech experts to expand its digital capabilities over the next decade. They plan to create an innovation hub, combining R&D and manufacturing capabilities to produce entry-level healthcare products.
GE Healthcare is pulling out all the stops on digital health. Rather than reinventing the wheel, they are partnering with both start-ups and established players, to take a digital healthcare platform to market. GE’s India Edison Accelerator Program takes innovative start-ups to the next level, by getting them on to the Edison platform, providing technical mentoring and customer validation. They have partnered with AI startups, such as Synapsica, Deep Tek, Predible, and several others, and plan to superpower their imaging systems by using AI.
They’ve also partnered with premier Hospital Management Software provider, NextGen eSolutions, to take their Hospital Management Software to customers across South Asia.
As GE adds more partnerships, their connected digital health ecosystem might well be the health information superhighway that powers healthcare in India over the next decade.
The Government of India is making its push towards digitization through the National Digital Health Mission (NDHM). They envisage a unique health ID for all (similar to the NHS), and patient data being portable across an information highway that connects with every HIS/ EMR system in India. However, healthcare digitization needs to go hand in hand with ramping up healthcare facilities, so that people can receive care when they need it.
The mindset of the patient has completely shifted. Where patients used to flock to hospitals for the littlest of complaints, they now understand the infection risk and go only when necessary.
My own mother-in-law, a diabetic tends to be lax about her doctor’s visits, going only when she feels she has a problem. This year has transformed her perception of the importance of health. Today, she understands her own comorbidities better, and is regular with her appointments, albeit online. She is comfortable with online consultations – unheard of earlier.
On the flip side, elective procedures have dipped drastically, with any procedure requiring a stay in the hospital getting postponed. The unfortunate side of this is that potentially life-saving procedures such as endoscopies are getting pushed out, and cancers are growing unchecked. Innovation and digitization are needed for areas like these so that touch-free procedures can be performed at home where necessary.
Laboratories have limited traffic, with the focus shifting to home sample collection. Doctors realize the importance of having digital practices, where patient information is kept current. Patients understand the importance of home monitoring, and there is a shift towards remote monitoring and home care.
Telemedicine has become commonplace, it is here to stay.
As healthcare continues to evolve, new digital technologies are emerging and will shape the future of digital healthcare tomorrow. Some of these are Blockchain Technology, AI, Augmented Reality, and potentially, Quantum Computing.
- Blockchain Technology
Blockchain technology has many applications in healthcare, particularly with the portability of electronic medical records. A patient’s data could be stored in a single block, and each caregiver involved in his care would be able to access all or part of this data securely. Through its decentralized principles, blockchain can vastly improve both the accessibility and the security of patient medical records, while using minimal computing power.
- Artificial Intelligence
Artificial Intelligence refers to software programs that learn as they are fed with more and better data. There are several types of artificial intelligence, the common ones being Machine Learning, Deep Learning, and Neural Networks. These are used to make sense of data that are too huge for the human mind to process. Take, for example, Oncology. Every day, new research is conducted and published in this field. An oncologist needs to process disease data, drug data, and genomics data on an everyday basis. Artificial Intelligence in use here would process a patient’s data to provide management options for the oncologist to consider.
Artificial Intelligence also has massive applications in radiology, where images can be interpreted suggestively by the AI, and the radiologist would provide a final diagnosis.
- Augmented Reality
Surgeons are working with gaming companies to use virtual reality/ augmented reality. They use this to perform surgical or anatomical training and for better visualization during surgery. The VA has done massive work in the management and rehabilitation of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) victims using Augmented Reality. It is also being used in the management of autism. Over time, Augmented Reality will be used in medical training, surgical visualization, management of mental illness, and end-of-life care.
- Quantum Computing
Healthcare is a complicated field, with large amounts of data. Quantum computers can process large amounts of data with impossible speed. Imagine the impact this would have on vaccine and drug development, with in-silico clinical trials (trials without humans) and nearly instant whole-genome sequencing.
With these technologies emerging, a Wakanda-like healthcare system is not very far into the future.
A better, data-driven health system awaits.
Brief About the Author
Dr. Mallika Kapur, CEO, NextGen eSolutions (P) Ltd.
Dr. Mallika Kapur is passionate about making healthcare better. She started her career as a doctor (KMC, Manipal), but believed that she could make a difference by bringing in technology to improve and simplify healthcare systems.
She did her MBA from ISB, H/yderabad in 2005, and went on to work at Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals until 2008. She presently heads a Healthcare Software company, NextGen eSolutions Pvt. Ltd. Their enterprise Hospital Management Software, Hospilogix, is implemented in hospitals across India, Middle East, and Africa.