Digital channels will play a much larger role in the future of healthcare services delivery. Transition into these digital enabled services from traditional in-person services has already accelerated in the last two years. The last few years have seen massive interventions of technology-led solutions in providing better patient care. From government agencies to big private hospitals; from healthtech startups to individual practitioners; technology adoption by all stakeholders has moved on a faster clip.
The application of artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), the internet of things (IoT), robotics, data analytics, blockchain, and cloud computing are making deep inroads into the healthcare sector. No wonder, global consulting major McKinsey predicts that the global market for digital health, which was around $350 billion in 2019 prior to COVID-19 pandemic, is likely to reach $515 billion by 2024 at a CAGR of eight per cent.
Back home, the pandemic has accelerated the pace of digital adoption. India’s National Telemedicine Service – eSanjeevani had crossed the milestone by completing three million consultations by the end of March, 2021. Similarly, India’s flagship COVID-tracing and vaccination status app has more than 190 million registered users. Such a wider embrace of technology-led solutions reflects that technology and healthcare remain inalienable.
Deep penetration of digital technologies:
Smart healthcare hinges on the appropriate applications of digital technologies in healthcare delivery. Hearteningly, the use cases are growing. For instance, Pattern recognition, categorization, anomaly detection, and prediction are getting better with AI-powered software solutions. Remote surgery technology now places experts at the reach of remote places within a matter of a few seconds. All it takes is access to the internet and compatible devices. Also, AI-powered solutions embedded with analytics are diagnosing diseases like cancer from an early stage from medical imaging. This is leading to detect abnormalities effortlessly apart from faster diagnosis and early treatment. Similarly, a combination of solutions leveraging IoT (Internet of Things), AI, and cloud computing is powering a range of smart healthcare devices in recent times.
The wide adoption of telehealth through teleconsultation platforms is a testimony to this fact. These cutting-edge teleconsultation apps are user-friendly with simple interfaces that can be used across various operating systems across devices. They also remember the patient’s history with past treatment records, bring experts in the call as needed making the consultation process easier, faster and economical as well as effective. Similarly, wearable devices like a smart watch, fitness tracker, ECG monitors, blood pressure monitors, biosensors are powered through IoT solutions.
The most critical application of IoT is seen in the Remote Patient Monitoring (RPM) space. IoT-powered software applications are successfully embedded within hardware devices to automatically collect health metrics like heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, and more such critical data points from patients without any physical interventions from ICUs. Such data, which is shown on a dashboard on a real-time basis, helps doctors to make life-saving interventions. For emerging economies like India and many African nations, the adoption of RPM solutions holds more significance than developed economies. Because the availability of healthcare professionals in these geographies is scarce. Digital technology makes it a lot easier to make these experts available throughout the nation; even in the hard-to-travel areas, hilly terrains, and remote villages where receiving timely treatment is rare. However, through RPM applications, doctors can keep a track on body vitals of patients residing in the remote areas and prescribe medications or admissions into hospitals in case of anomalies.
Therefore, the application of RPM solutions has the potential of bringing in revolutionary changes in the healthcare ecosystem through proactive health delivery. In this way, Information technology (IT) has democratised access to treatment across geographies, removing the critical time and distance barriers.
Cloud computing is another technological frontier, witnessing huge applications in the healthcare space. Organisations operating in this ecosystem have been migrating to the cloud in droves. This is leading to the automation of several processes, which saves time and cost for these enterprises. Electronic Health Records is the most significant use case of leveraging cloud computing solutions.
The Indian government has embarked on an ambitious initiative of creating digital Health IDs for every citizen. Such a digital health ID initiative can help nations to develop a universal healthcare system based on electronic health records (EHRs), and e-Health Centres. Smart hospitals are also gaining popularity across the world. RFID, infrared sensors, GPS, laser scanners, and other information sensing equipment are being used in these smart hospitals for better diagnosis, treatment, & management of hospitals. Moreover, vaccine research and development are also witnessing applications of digital technologies.
Security holds the key:
The pace of digitalisation has accelerated manifold due to the COVID pandemic. The use of telehealth platforms, e-pharmacies, wearable devices, RPM solutions along cloud migration has gained popularity. However, deeper technological interventions come with their own set of risks. In most of the applications used by caregivers, patients’ data is stored in digital form. Any breach of such a database will jeopardise patients’ privacy and confidentiality. Therefore, robust cybersecurity measures with Zero Trust Network (ZTN) approach will be required for safeguarding sensitive data.
Global healthcare is at the cusp of massive transformation in the coming years. The pandemic has shown that India is leading the way in many aspects of digital healthcare. To sustain the momentum, all stakeholders should work in tandem. This can make the future of healthcare to be preventive.
by Sanjeev Dahiwadkar, Founder & CEO of Cognota Healthcare.
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