'COVID-19 has been a tailwind for healthcare tech in India'

Digital adoption became a necessity, rather than an option, says a healthcare industry panel at Converge@Walmart.

The healthcare industry has moved from the Stone Age to the present era, said Rajiv Sikka, Chief Information Officer (CIO) of Medanta, a super-speciality hospital in Gurugram, on Wednesday. "That is the kind of transformation that has happened in the healthcare industry."

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the adoption of technologies for better services and products, and for combating diseases, he said, on Wednesday at Converge@Walmart, a virtual conference on retail technology, organised by Walmart Global Tech India.

Sikka was speaking at a panel-discussion on 'Influence of Tech on Healthcare'. Care and consultation services have moved from hospitals to clinics, to home to 24X7 services, due to improved access to mobile phones and internet.

"COVID-19 has been an additional tailwind," said Enbasekar D, Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of MediBuddy, a healthcare platform in India. "It (digital adoption) became a necessity rather than an option or convenience, and many of us were forced to adopt such things."

This adoption became necessary not only for the patients, but also healthcare providers—doctors, hospitals and pharmacies.

For patients, the fear of secondary and tertiary infections at hospitals is pushing them to consult doctors remotely from home. Hospitals are adapting to digital to ease the burden on their physical infrastructure that was stretched during the two waves of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The panelists agreed that technology is also playing a huge role in improving the healthcare supply chain. It is helping reduce time constraints, and to get immediate results, consultations, and treatments.

"Pandemic detection is one area where Artificial Intelligence (AI) will start playing a significant role, as it did earlier," said Ajit Narayanan, Chief Technology and Product Officer of MFine, a healthcare startup providing online medical services.

He cited Canadian health monitoring platform Bluedot, which had warned its customers of an outbreak—the COVID-19 infections—before the World Health Organisation. The prediction was based on its analysis of reports and airline traffic using AI.

Epidemiologists have used such algorithmic models extensively to predict the potential clusters and the rate of infections. Such models came close to predicting the decline of the second wave in India.

"This can become the way in which we look at how such disease outbreaks will happen in the future," Narayanan said.

Artificial intelligence is already a part of healthcare in radiology in cases such as medical imaging. It is also being used for recognising non-communicable diseases.

"The focus will be more on early detection and risk assessment right at the beginning, so that you can make minor modifications or some significant changes to your lifestyle, and make sure it doesn't complicate into something deadlier for you," said Narayanan.

AI is also helping in digital assessments through mobile devices by using non-invasive data such as heartbeat and breath-rate. It is also being used to discover new drugs, and improve their efficacy.

“If you have historical data of patients and variables to collect, there's a lot that you can say,” said Narayanan. It is assistive for both doctors and care-providers to get access to history of patients medical records, and give right assessment.

Edited by Kunal Talgeri