Business Today

Robot Doctors

Technology has the potential to reshape India's healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors.
Dr Rana Mehta | Print Edition: December 31, 2017
Robot Doctors

What will you prefer if you have to choose between a medical doctor and a robot with artificial intelligence (AI) to examine, diagnose and prescribe medicines and treatment? Will you allow the robot to carry out surgery on you?

It is no longer stuff out of science fiction. All over the world, robotics, Big Data, Internet of Things (IoT) and related technologies are transforming healthcare and pharmaceutical sciences in a manner that has never happened before. AI and robots, which support diagnosis and treat people, are already in homes, workplaces and clinical environments. It is yet to become common in India, but technologies that are more basic, the ones that capture and analyse data, are quite commonplace in the country. The buzz words are mobile apps, analytics, standardisation, Big Data, IoT, barcoding and robotics.

Electronic Capture of Data

All leading Indian healthcare organisations have been focussing on capturing data through information systems such as hospital information system (HIS), enterprise resource planning (ERP), lab information system (LIS) and radiology information system (RIS), for some time now. The next step is to standardise this information for easy interpretation. Major Indian healthcare players have identified interoperability as their priority and have started taking steps towards it. The power of standardised data is immense. It enables organisations to understand and analyse their ecosystems properly. Both healthcare and pharmaceutical companies have been able to generate useful insights through analytics and take informed decisions about the future. Today, hospital chains are beginning to adopt such uniform standards and terminologies. There is still huge scope for improvement although leading organisations have started seeing benefits of analytics and have started looking positively at latest and advanced technologies, including Big Data.

The need of the hour is collaboration as the right advice, right technology and right product partnerships can only result in best and improved outcomes for themselves and their customers.

Mobile Apps

Smartphones and mobile apps can make a huge difference in all aspects of healthcare delivery - be it educational, wellness, disease management, medication adherence or fitness. Leading healthcare organisations can leverage basic functions like texting and advanced functions like inbuilt sensors or integration with wearables to target specific segments, say, mother and child care, diabetes or heart diseases, which are extremely relevant in the Indian context. Health insurance companies have already come up with mobile apps for the insured to promote healthy habits and physical activities by offering good discounts and offers. Recruitment of patients for clinical trials through mobile apps is another service that is already being offered. Apple's ResearchKit and CareKit have helped medical researchers across the globe in their studies.

Mobile apps can also be used for marketing campaigns and to connect not only with customers but also with suppliers and vendors.

Internet of Things

According to the World Health Organization, out of every 100 hospitalised patients at any given time, seven in developed and 10 in developing countries will acquire at least one healthcare-associated infection or HAI. In high-income countries, approximately 30 per cent of the patients in intensive care units are affected by at least one healthcare-associated infection. HAI is a major concern globally. In developing nations like India, the incidence of HAI is two-three times more than what it is in developed countries. Some hospitals across the world have shown improvement through IoT-enabled tracking and controlling of HAI. Leading Indian hospitals use analytics and Big Data to improve hand hygiene compliance for their staff and thus prevent HAI.

Similarly, a large number of lives can be saved if we can enable our ambulances with IoT. In India, the traffic situation is a big hindrance and results in delays that often result in fatalities. Currently, data from ambulance is primarily transmitted verbally, on the phone or by using the computer on board after typing. It takes a lot of time and often results in delays in transmitting critical information to the Emergency Department doctors in the hospital. IoT-enabled ambulances can be used to transfer vitals, pulse and ECG details quickly and also to highlight the critical changes in their values that can save a lot of time. Every minute saved is critical in an emergency.

Pharma companies can improve their supply chain, logistics and manufacturing functions to a great extent by leveraging IoT. Sensors can be used to track temperature and humidity conditions, track and trace mechanism, and improve in-transit visibility. Trucks with sensors can communicate directly with warehouse management systems to plan better.

Analytics is one area that has generated a lot of interest and traction. It has been helping healthcare and pharma organisations generate key insights about themselves and take informed decisions. It has helped them improve operations, thus reducing costs, generating new revenue categories, ensuring clinical decision support, identifying frauds, etc. Big Data can help the healthcare organisations in storing and using the huge amount of data that they need to generate and store.

Barcoding/RFID and Robotics

Leading organisations have benefited from barcoding/RFID use in supply chain, especially in inventory management, product serialisation, following track-and-trace regulations, speeding up the picking process, space planning and demand planning. Robotics has the potential to play a significant role in labour-intensive, repetitive and precision-handling jobs like picking, packaging, transporting, vial filling and manipulations, assay analysis, test tube movements and so on.

Long Way Ahead

Can Indian healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors benefit from these advanced technologies when we struggle to use even the basic technology like using information systems to capture data? The answer is, yes. However, Indian healthcare has a long way to go to leverage and get the best out of technology. We have the right tools, human resources and environmental factors to leverage advanced technologies. We need to have the right mindset and leadership to demonstrate the benefits and must also have the patience and capability to identify the right time to leverage these technologies.

The writer is Partner & Leader, Healthcare, PricewaterhouseCoopers

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