The Healthcare sector across the globe was overwhelmed during the peak of the COVID pandemic last year. It exposed the vulnerabilities of the sector in various aspects. From the scarce availability of healthcare professionals to the shortage of life-saving medical supplies, all nations- whether rich or poor- had to go through harrowing times. But every crisis is also an opportunity in disguise. This black swan event has shown the world that technology is no longer an enabler in providing quality healthcare but it has become an essential part of healthcare delivery. Digital transformation in the healthcare sector is nothing new, but the pace of adoption has definitely accelerated. Widespread usage of telehealth platforms and remote patient monitoring during the COVID pandemic reflects the level of penetration.
The collaboration between man and machine is on a rise in the healthcare sector. According to global consulting major McKinsey, the global market for digital health prior to COVID-19 pandemic was around $350 billion in 2019, which is likely to reach $515 billion by 2024 at a CAGR of eight per cent. For India, the growth projections are also bullish. As per RBSA Advisors, the Indian healthtech sector is expected to touch $3 billion by 2023 and $50 billion in another 10 years. These estimates reflect the growing influence of technological solutions in the healthcare delivery and monitoring sector.
Digital technologies make deep inroad
Though the pandemic has given the immediate trigger for rapid adoption of technology in healthcare industry, factors like scarcity of professionals, the rising cost of patient care, and the emerging startup ecosystem are driving the role of technology in the healthcare industry worldwide. The Healthcare sector is being transformed with wider application of robotics, machine learning (ML), artificial intelligence (AI), data analytics, wearables & on-body devices, GIS, and blockchain among others. Maintenance of healthcare records in digital storage, use of SaaS (software as a service) applications for various healthcare services, and automation of repetitive processes are accelerating the pace of cloud computing adoption further. Universal adoption of standards like HL7 makes it little easy to deploy army of systems and devices.
The digital health pool is fairly large and comprises research and development in drug development space, screening and diagnostics of disease, wellness and disease prevention, remote patient monitoring (RPM), epharmacy, and effective therapy determination through data analytics. All these segments have witnessed the rapid application of AI, ML, IoT, data analytics, and cloud computing among others. For instance, AI-powered solutions are helping doctors in making better diagnoses by interpreting historical data sets drawn from previous disease incidences. AI coupled with data analytics is enabling healthcare professionals to predict the possibility of disease incidence beforehand. This helps in taking preventive actions.
Connected healthcare devices are other examples of how technology is transforming the face of healthcare. Remote Patient Monitoring (RPM) is the most significant use case of these devices wherein 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. After the IoT device collects patient data, it forwards those data to the healthcare providers’ IT system. Healthcare providers can access those in one dashboard and make timely interventions. Alerts can also be generated with the help of algorithms that generate patterns for initiating action.
Collaborative interfaces like teleconsultation platforms have also seen explosive adoption in the last two years. These smart platforms powered through AI & ML are enabling healthcare professionals to provide services remotely to patients through a secured cloud environment. ePharmacy is another segment that successfully creates a market place for pharmaceutical products with minimal physical interactions during this pandemic period. Having direct communication channels among Hospital ERP/HRM with Labs and pharmacies have already seen boost if accuracy of such essential areas reducing vital errors such as wrong test results interpretations and wrong prescriptions, etc.
The application of AI and data analytics has already been proven in the drug development process. The R&D and subsequent development of the COVID-19 vaccine in a short span of one and half year reflected the contribution of technology in expediting the process. Apart from drug development, big data is being leveraged to determine the effective dosage of various drugs through collating and interpreting scores of data points collected on a real-time basis. GIS mapping tools also started playing much larger role about tracking the spread of disease, impact of treatment, and so many geographically, population driven questions. This type of close to real time interpretations of data have empowered governments/policy makers to take quicker decisions with better quality. For example: when would it be okay to remove indoor mask restrictions, when would it be safe to resume normal activities in area, etc.
Security holds the key
As technological interventions rise with man and technology work in tandem for futuristic healthcare services, safety & security of patients’ privacy emerge as the key theme. Any digital interface is prone to cyberattacks. Therefore, cybersecurity measures should be robust to maintain the rising usage of technology in the healthcare sector. When medical inflation is high and human resources are in short supply, technology can create alternatives to provide trust worthy, efficient, affordable healthcare services to citizens. Therefore, all stakeholders should strive to take human and technology collaboration to a new height.
The article has been written by Sanjeev Dahiwadkar, Founder and CEO, Cognota Healthcare