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View from India: Health data privacy and the road ahead with AI

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Health companies should leverage artificial intelligence (AI) to create smart solutions to improve patient care, both in urban and rural India

The pandemic has brought R&D units, the medical fraternity, consumers and technology closer. They’ve all collaborated to bring out personal protection equipment (PPE) kits, Covid test kits and vaccines, among other things. “We need to take advantage of this collaboration and take it forward by leveraging technologies such as AI for improving healthcare. Statistics indicate that there are around 1.3 hospital beds for a population of 1,000,” said P R Krishnan, former executive vice president & global head, EIA, TCS.

The adoption of AI into the Indian health system is imperative, especially for citizens who live in remote locations. “The gap between those who have access to top-class healthcare and those that don’t have even basic access needs to be bridged. The data of patients at the grassroots level needs to be digitised and stored on a cloud. The electronic data can help make predictions about infection outbreaks,” added Mallari Kulkarni, head of engineering, Digital LifeCare Dell Technologies. Further electronic data can also help patients seek virtual medical assistance.      

Going forward, there are many ways in which AI can be used to achieve mass outreach in healthcare especially for digitised prescriptions. “For instance, self-help management kiosks can be installed in rural areas and tier cities for diabetes. The kiosks can take blood samples, which can be passed on to doctors who can prescribe medicines online. Smartphones will be the enabler,” said Kulkarni.

Rural India, as well as economically disadvantaged sections of society, needs to be understood as an opportunity for AI interventions for better outcomes. This can happen through partnerships and investments. Software developers, healthcare providers and state governments need to come together for improving efficiencies and to offer healthcare services in far-flung suburbs. AI can be leveraged to improve healthcare conditions and for a mass outreach; accessibility to healthcare for all is a challenge. AI-enabled chat-bots and voice assistants can be used to interact with patients, collect information about them and pass it on to medical experts.

AI can work as a healthcare-enabling tool which automates manual processes with high standards of precision. AI algorithms can read X-rays and scans in the case of diagnosis. The characteristics of AI need to be integrated across the board and throughout the value chain to improve patient experience and medical outcomes.

Along with AI tools, data derived from AI is an enabler for health decisions. AI-sourced health data can be leveraged for predicting and monitoring diseases and infections. “Public and private healthcare require diagnosis with the right expertise and quality treatment. Delivering it at levels of excellence can happen through the AI-ML convergence. The convergence of these technologies facilitates operational efficiencies in the healthcare management system,” explained Arvind Sivaramakrishnan, CIO, Apollo Hospitals. Machine learning tools can make sense of the patterns emerging from the data which can be used to predict diseases. 

India is already data rich; now it has an opportunity to be economically rich using AI-derived data and algorithms across verticals including healthcare. In many western countries, it is the reverse. Given that India has a population of 1.3 billion, it is a data-rich country in terms of volume, lifestyle and demographics. In a broad sense, data is contextual to India. It needs to be converted into information to take intelligent decisions. “The data needs to be leveraged and used to predict potential risks and unlock opportunities in medical research to address those diseases,” said Srikanth Velamakanni, co-founder, group chief executive and executive vice chairman, Fractal.

Technology needs to be used to manage messy data and create actionable insights. “The government-led initiative, such as the Aadhaar Card, which has a 12-digit number exclusive to each individual, is a rich depository of data. To that effect, the government can be a catalyst and an AI service provider that extends to the last mile connectivity,” said Krishnan.

Health data needs to be sanitised and used effectively by healthcare companies. A digital platform containing patient data should be made available to service providers and healthcare professionals.

AI data calls for protection and security; AI requires an ethical committee. Maintaining ethics, accuracy and responsibility in AI is important. Within healthcare it becomes a sensitive issue as it involves the private data of individuals, which is the focal part of decision making. “The manner in which information AI data is collected and processed becomes a concern for cyber security. If we want to be economically rich, we have to build an index for AI,” warned Rajiv Sikka, senior vice president and IT head at Medanta.

Digital insurance is another area waiting to be explored. There are a number of AI startups that have created AI-based medical diagnostic tools for early detection of diseases and primary care, but we need many more such startups. The products should be scalable, affordable and accessible for everyone including those in rural-remote locations. “India is the world’s third-largest startup hub. The speed with which startups delivered Covid-detection solutions needs to be acknowledged. Going along these lines, startups can pursue other fields of medicine like tele-radiology and make precision medicine accessible,” observed Dileep Mangsuli, executive director, Siemens Healthineers. Startups along the government can propel India forward to be an AI service delivery hub for the world.

The government, in sync with startups, healthcare professionals and the IT industry, will redefine how healthcare is being delivered to everyone in the value chain. This includes medical professionals and consumers. “AI solutions will enable the early detection of diseases. Simply put, as procedures tweak with AI solutions, the Indian healthcare industry will undergo a sea change,” concluded Anurag Dua, partner, advisory, PwC. 

These insights were discussed online at ‘AI for Industry – AI for All,’ an International Conference on AI organised by apex body Confederation of Indian Industry. 

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