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The next frontier - information revolution in healthcare

Abhijeet Katte
2nd Jan 2018
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In the future, it would be difficult for doctors to compete with machines that possess almost infinite processing powers and memory. The information revolution is shaping the future of healthcare. 

Doctor-vs-Machine

Data plays an important role in many facets of life in today’s world. The flurry of information has changed our personal life - the way we buy, the way we bank, and the list goes on. From an enterprise point of view, data has helped organisations maximise profits, optimise their fleets and promote loyalty.

One area that has been a little hesitant to enter this field is healthcare. Healthcare was one of the last sectors to be engulfed in the data juggernaut, and there are many reasons for it. The major reason, however, was and has been the resistance to change from conventional methods, both from service providers, and end consumers.

A doctor, and medical staff, tend to trust their own instincts rather than data-backed intelligent systems. Patients are hesitant to trust machines with life-altering decisions, and trust humans to make decisions on their behalf.

However, this approach has a fundamental limitation. A human being has limited memory and processing capacity, which can serve doctors very poorly as time goes by. In the future, it would be difficult for doctors to compete with machines that possess almost infinite processing powers and memory.

AI taking over domains in medicine

It is already happening in the field of radiology. What if a machine could do the job of diagnosing malaria from your blood samples, or predicting cancer-based on your CT scans with better accuracy and precision? This doesn’t mean that radiologists will be out of work. Their creative inputs to solve complex issues will still be in demand, but Artificial Intelligence (AI) will be a larger player when it comes to simpler cases and repetitive tasks. AI may not completely replace radiologists, but radiologists with the knowledge of AI may definitely do.

Support for medical data ecosystem

Let me further convince you how data is beginning to, and slowly will, become the centre point of almost all healthcare systems.

There is a huge push from many stakeholders in the healthcare industry to push for reforms, and become data and technology oriented. Many participants in the healthcare pyramid would have had a chance to look out of their sectors and experience first-hand how data has drastically improved outputs, increased productivity, and streamlined processes.

There is a lot of pressure that comes from the economic machinery when the economic and financial climate is transforming into a data-centric system.

Slowly, there is a trend of information exchanges being developed to store and exchange medical data, as well as non- clinical medical data.

With medical data comes the issues of maintaining privacy and anonymity of patients. Such issues are increasingly becoming easy to handle with increased technical capability and advanced encryption techniques. There have been more and more tools that have become accessible that have made it easier to query medical databases.

The government has also participated in the movement by releasing open data sets that it possesses. It also participates in an ecosystem where it assists private participants to create interoperable standards for medical data.

Government’s role in open datasets for healthcare

Open source datasets released by the Government of India range from rural health statistics to blood bank and hospital bank directories. One can also make an argument for the government to put in more efforts to make medical data available at scale, but it remains a distant possibility as India spends just 1.5 percent of its GDP on healthcare.

After allocating funds for physical services, capital and infrastructure, staffing, pathology and other expenses, there is little left to pay for data infrastructure. But the government should take this gamble because the rewards are promising.

A medical data infrastructure would mean there is easier coordination between healthcare systems. Better analytics and insights would enhance treatment, and provide a valuable feedback loop to the entire system which will improve healthcare in the long run. As we have witnessed in the private sector, having data oriented processes will enable the government to decrease operational expenses.

A medical data infrastructure will allow patients, families and doctors to access records of a particular patient immediately, resulting into better and streamlined OPDs. Patient registration, billing and insurance claim procedures would get a lot better if the government invests in a medical data infrastructure.

India as a leader in healthcare technologies

One important point that many people miss is that India has a large number of trained medical professionals, and at the same time India is a leader in technology. Surgeries and medical procedures cost only a fraction in India of what they may cost in the US. With the data revolution coming where India already has talent in the field of analytics and healthcare, we are poised to become a leader in healthcare tech products and services.

With such a large Indian market to serve, companies in India have an opportunity to release and get product ideas tested in one of the most in-demand markets in the world, and then expand further.

The healthcare market in India is estimated around $100 billion, and slated to grow to up to $280 billion by 2020. The revenues of companies in the healthcare industry have also grown over the years. There is a huge influx of both funds, and medical tourists, to the Indian market.

Over the years, there has been enormous activity from public and private players that have created massive upside opportunities for innovative products that leverage data. These healthy market conditions, and a growing economy, have led to increased spending on healthcare by public who now, along with diagnosis and cure, are also interested in upkeep and preventive medical services.

There lies the opportunity for businesses of all sizes to come in and innovate. The government would do well to let the competitive market for medical devices and other services grow, which would ensure better and cost-effective services and products for the Indian consumer in the long run.

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)

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