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View from India: Healthcare gets AI twist

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2019 has seen artificial intelligence (AI) disrupting healthcare and life sciences. Asia is becoming a hub for new local innovation in global drug and devices and India is part of the journey.

Healthcare in the open economy is undergoing a transformation. “At a global level, mobile technology, robotics, artificial intelligence (AI) and connected devices are revolutionising the healthcare industry,” said Pratik Dattani, managing director, EPG Economic and Strategic Consulting.

When we look at the healthcare scenario in India, a number of factors come to mind. “By 2050, India is projected to be the world’s most populated nation. About 1.02 per cent of the GDP [gross domestic product] is being spent on healthcare,” explained Dr Naresh Shetty, President, Ramaiah Memorial Hospital.

Consumer patterns such as changing lifestyle and an increasing urban population has created a demand within the healthcare industry. Nevertheless, the urban-rural divide is a challenge when it comes to delivering healthcare services to the last mile. Other than that, disadvantaged locations face skill shortage. This is acutely felt as 70 per cent of India is rural and 70 per cent of healthcare providers are in the urban region.

The National Health Authority (NHA) has signed a Statement of Intent (SoI) with Google to collaborate and strengthen the implementation of Ayushman Bharat-Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (AB PMJAY). This is the world’s largest public-funded health insurance scheme aimed to bring quality healthcare to around 50 crore poor and vulnerable Indians across the country. A technologically robust eco-system forms the core of this vision.

The AB PMJAY-Google SoI aims to explore various use cases for increasing process efficiencies in day-to-day applications. Google will also support NHA in improving PMJAY's digital presence and showcasing relevant content to the 50 crore entitled beneficiaries. Furthermore, Google will help provide training and support to NHA personnel to reinforce the digital skills.

A tech-ready workforce is essential in order to make healthcare services affordable and accessible to all including the less advantaged sections of society. This can happen through a digital transformation with technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) big data analytics and virtual reality (VR). “Most hospitals have 60 per cent occupancy, because a very small percentage of the population has access to healthcare. Healthcare needs to be scalable. Massive scale happens through AI, ML, cloud computing and data intelligence,” said Vivek Rajagopal, advanced analytics and AI, Narayana Hrudayalaya Hospital.

The integration of technology with healthcare services and devices will give rise to cheaper storage options, smaller processing chipsets and an extended battery life. 5G and 6G will facilitate surgeries. AI in healthcare has varied applications. It can be used as a diagnostic tool to identify the various stages of cancer, besides aiding drug discovery. AI can monitor the heart condition and enable customised fitness regimes. 

Robots will increasingly assist tasks in operation theatres. “In the last three or four years, the volume for robotic-assisted surgeries has doubled,” said Dr Santanu Chattopadhyay, Head, Provider & Hospital Businesses, 1mg Technologies. With robots in healthcare, surgeons get 10 times magnified high-definition 3D images of the body’s intricate anatomy. Robots bring in a fair share of advantage. They lower the risk of adverse side effects and ensure patients a quicker recovery and return to normal activity.

Digital opportunities in healthcare will result in convenient seamless care. Connected devices will allow continuous monitoring and an inflow of health data, which needs to be crunched.

The value emerging from the data can help to predict, prevent and treat diseases. This happens in a lesser timeframe when compared to traditional clinical pathways, which could probably extend to a few years. The flipside is that while taking data-driven decisions, it’s crucial to safeguard privacy. 

Digital health will come of age with increasing focus on individual care. We already have health apps and wearables like health bits. The Government of India’s (GoI) spending on healthcare is slated to increase to 2.5 per cent of GDP by 2025. “The hospital industry in India has a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 16-17 per cent. It is expected to reach 8.6 trillion by 2022 from four trillion in 2017,” added Dr Shetty.

Seen futuristically, AI will also understand facial expressions and body gestures. This will help the multimodal analysis of human emotions. “AI augments healthcare and will not replace the human touch. Primary care in rural India happens now through Ayushman Bharat,” assured Dr Chattopadhyay.  

These insights were shared at the bioConclave 2019 - 'Transforming Healthcare in India'. The event, held for the first time in India, was presented by the Economic Policy Group (EPG), an economic and strategy consulting firm.

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