How big data analytics can win the war against COVID-19

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Indian healthcare system saw a shift from its traditional model to a more digital one. Here is how big data analytics can help them next.
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The Indian healthcare system saw an unprecedented crisis as the nation continues to reel under the impact of the second COVID-19 wave. Hospitals struggled due to the acute shortage of critical resources such as oxygen, medicines, and medical staff that directly impacted healthcare access and patient lives. The country witnessed countless deaths and the economic burden continues to rise.

India’s healthcare sector needed a digital push

The pandemic exposed India’s inadequate medical infrastructure that existed for years. In a country of 1.3 billion people, around 75 percent of the healthcare infrastructure is focused in urban areas, making basic facilities inaccessible to rural areas.

Moreover, India's total healthcare spending (out-of-pocket and public) is at 3.6 percent of GDP, way lower than other countries. This has limited the infusion of value investments and led to resource crunch and choked the healthcare system.

This is where technology can play a crucial role. It can bridge the gap between healthcare access and affordability across the country. A complete reformation within the healthcare sector led by digital technologies was long overdue and the pandemic became a perfect time to effect this change.

In the past year, we saw how essential tech solutions like Hospital Information Management System (HIMS) and telemedicine turned the situation for good.

Now is the time when digital health takes the lead. Healthcare is already shifting from the clinic to mobile phones. We have seen how doctors and patients have move to teleconsultations.

We saw the rise of online pharmacies and the use of cloud and big data to collate hospital information and patient records. The convergence of health and technology is now inevitable and commonplace.

Moreover, a government-led push to healthcare providers to go digital coupled with other factors like increasing instances of lifestyle diseases and an increased investment flow from the private investors is shaping the future of healthcare in India. The sector is projected to become a $132.84 billion industry by 2023, according to data released by India Brand Equity Foundation (IBEF). 

Big data analytics could be a game-changer

For years, the basis of most medical research and innovation has been the collection and analysis of data- to understand who gets sick, how they get sick and why. But now, with sensors in every smartphone and doctors able to share information across disciplines, the quantity and quality of the data available is greater than ever before. This means that the potential for breakthroughs and change is growing just as exponentially.

In the present context, there is increased data sharing and access amongst healthcare organisations. The pandemic has prompted researchers to integrate and improve data analytics tools to alleviate its impacts. These are real-time tools that can invariably cull data from sources that are helping scientists, epidemiologists, healthcare professionals, and policymakers globally.

In India too, big data has been enabling experts to conduct large scale medical research, reduce health-related expenses and lead the nation to avert future epidemics. It is enabling a fascinating intersection of huge quantities of patient data with personal, individualised care.

So, how can organisations utilise new ways of employing data effectively? Hospital Information Management System (HIMS) can provide accurate time analytics for future references. The right data on a disease can be analysed based on morbidity, post-recovery symptoms, population mobility, etc.

Data about people being immune to the virus can also prove beneficial in the future. It is imperative to record and analyse covid co-morbidity deaths in the current situation, which could help researchers develop tools and treatment options for people with higher risk. HIMS also proves beneficial for inventory management.

Real-time data on vacant hospital beds, oxygen concentrators, medicines, no of patients, etc., can be instrumental in creating a resource bank for patients, hospitals and government bodies to fix the demand supply gap of critical resources.

Having said that, the road to complete digital transformation isn’t a cakewalk.

Building a future ready India

Concerns about patient privacy and data theft have been looming around for quite some time. However, advanced tools for data management that have in-built cybersecurity elements now make big data application ever more full proof.

Now, telemedicine applications have advanced solutions and better offerings. These ready to implement solutions connects doctors and patients virtually while integrating all the critical clinical and patient information in the most secured manner. Telemedicine applications are also capable of providing real-time data analytics.

Currently, most hospitals and healthcare institutes are far from completing their digital transformation process. Those who are a bit technologically advanced use it to store primary patients' history without implementing big data analytics.

Any technology of greater potential is of little value if the potential is not exploited to its full extent. If healthcare solutions are used adequately, big data can identify meaningful information in advance, which can assist the system in planning and preempting any potential threat in times of pandemic.

Our nation's healthcare system needs to be proactive and preventive rather than acute and reactive. Embracing new technologies can take giant strides towards a digital future. The country needs a system where every patient has their digital records, which includes demographics, medical history, allergies, laboratory test results, etc.

These records can be shared via secure information systems and available for providers from both the public and private sectors. This unified healthcare database will help the Indian health system making records accessible in times of crisis.

Now, is also an appropriate time to build public-private partnership (PPP) projects involving technology companies working in the healthcare space for faster and scalable digital healthcare initiatives. Joint efforts from all stakeholders can help tide over this storm and build a future ready healthcare sector for India.

Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta

(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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