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View from India: Educate today for tomorrow’s Internet of Medical Things

The healthcare industry in India is beginning to open up to connected healthcare devices, enabling a shift from hospital care to home care.

To some extent, many patient-related treatments are now happening in a connected manner from home. “Brick-and-mortar hospitals should be for the critically ill,” said Dr Sudarshan Ballal, chairman of Manipal Enterprises, speaking at the Smart Tech Healthcare 2016 Summit, organised by Explore Exhibitions and Conferences.

That’s because connected healthcare devices facilitate self-examination of blood pressure, sugar, heart beat and pulse rate. “Self-examination is necessary for everyone as it eliminates hospital visits. We should also remember that 70 per cent of India is rural and most doctors are concentrated in urban India. It’s important to leverage IoT and a cloud-based platform to create scalable, adoptable and cost-effective connected healthcare devices that will be accessible to everyone,” explained Dr Ballal. Nevertheless, connected healthcare devices and e-kits should be uniformly distributed across all sections of society.

The Internet of Things (IoT) has a pivotal role to play in the connected healthcare devices segment. IoT is expected to earn $14tn revenue at a global level. In India, IoT is making inroads into the medical field for its ability to sense, embed, process and communicate. “IoT can support liveability. Some states use IoT to screen newborn infants for eye defects. IIT Delhi has devised a smart cane for the visually impaired. It detects objects using ultrasonic technology. Even breast cancer detection happens through sensor devices,” reasoned Dr Neena Pahuja, director general of Education & Research in Computer Networking (ERNET) in the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology. “IoT can also be used for tracking wheelchairs in the airport. Its applications are diverse and hence IoT should become part of the curriculum for both engineering and medical degree,” Dr Pahuja added.

IoT should be used for remote monitoring. It’s also necessary to move a few notches higher and open out research and entrepreneurial opportunities. It’s essential to create devices that work on low power and equip them with batteries that have a long shelf life.

It’s time we digitise the way healthcare industry operates, and this is just not confined to providers but consumers as well. Several healthcare companies have come forward with cloud-based platforms for remote connectivity. “GE Health Cloud will provide some level of insight for users. It’s designed to be agnostic; this will be an aggregation platform and will provide information to connect the patient with the right hospital. In simple terms, the cloud platform will virtually tailor the meeting with the right person and helps avoid the ‘doctor hopping’ situation,” reasoned Mr Sivan Menon, CTO, GE Healthcare.

Moving beyond cloud platforms, disruptive technologies like tele-radiology with its 3D imaging is expected to transform many medical procedures. However, in the case of 3D imaging data privacy becomes a challenge. Looking futuristically, the blockchain technology that is used for bitcoins could be tweaked for security of patient information (in times to come).

Technology should be used to solve real-life problems, and assistive technology should become a joint initiative of academia, industry and the user community. “This joint effort is required because technology should be used in healthcare like the way we use ATMs in banks. Everything and everyone should be connected through the internet,” commented Dr Arun Kumar Gupta, professor and head of neuroimaging and interventional radiology at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuroscience.

Undoubtedly technology will open out new opportunities in the field of medicine and help generate revenue, but it’s crucial to connect the tech developer with the hospital. When the hospital morphs into a digitally enabled one, the hospital professionals (doctors and nurses included) should be given the know-how to operate digitised procedures.

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