Rise of Technology in Healthcare in The Post-pandemic Scenario
Re-modelling the current healthcare system to adapt to the digital ecosystem is not only the need of the hour but will also transform the system to enable it to deliver better long-term outcomes.
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The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic has pushed people to extreme poverty, caused social distress and unemployment. Being at the frontline of the fight against this crisis, the healthcare sector has borne the brunt of the pandemic, which has been equally harsh on developing, and developed countries. The entire world has witnessed its healthcare systems crumble while trying to accommodate patients, manage resources and prevent the spread of the infection.
However, the sector has risen bravely to address some critical changes demanded of it through a slew of rapid changes The impact of these will be transient in some cases but assume permanence through structural improvements in others. These changes are triggered primarily through efforts to digitise all facets of healthcare, be it delivery, diagnostics, or treatment.
Re-modelling the current healthcare system to adapt to the digital ecosystem is not only the need of the hour but will also transform the system to enable it to deliver better long-term outcomes. This is a necessity for India which is burdened with a sizable patient population, much of which struggles to access the most basic healthcare resources. The use of digital technology will democratise the accessibility of care and treatment and improve patients’ overall experience. This has already been demonstrated to an extent, through rapid technology adoption by the different actors in the healthcare system - hospitals, clinics, Doctors, Insurers, Laboratories, Pharma companies, pharmacies, device and equipment providers, all of whom have benefitted extensively.
The first requirement which is crucial to easing the burden on the existing healthcare infrastructure is the transformation of healthcare service delivery This is being led by teleconsultation, the development of remote monitoring devices, and innovations in the delivery of medicines and other critical equipment. Virtual OPDs are already replacing physical ones and offer high-quality service at a lower cost and at greater convenience.
Teleconsulting is already facilitating the first phase of larger patient engagement away from the hospitals, and closer to the home. Bringing a tailwind to this trend are IoT enabled smart monitoring systems, to better monitor patients with conditions or post procedures in their homes. Moreover, connected medical devices like remote ECG devices and smart continuous glucose monitoring systems will further aid in providing data, like heart events that go uncaptured or glucose level fluctuations in the middle of the night. Previously unavailable to clinicians, this missing critical data, often led to misdiagnosis and incorrect treatment. If these are complemented with portable and rapid diagnostic solutions for common pathologies, it will result in timely and effective treatment.
Rapid screening and diagnosis will be further aided by the adoption of Artificial intelligence in areas such as Radiology and digital Pathology, providing capabilities that will make testing more affordable, convenient and scalable. AI based image interpretation will not just reduce the immense burden that radiologists currently face, but also enable early diagnosis or provide an alternate modality for diagnosis, much like CT scans have been used to detect Covid and its impact on patients
AI will also assist in processing the massive volume of patient data collected through wearable technology, virtual OPDs, EMR systems and fitness apps. This will improve the quality of service, diagnosis, treatment and prevention. We are already seeing early signs that better outcomes will be driven using AI and synthesizing big data for more accurate diagnosis and personalized treatment. Further, AI-powered heuristic and pattern matching solutions will also make drug discovery much more efficient.
Computer vision and automation with the use of Drones could also play a significant role in facilitating the process of approval carried out by regulatory bodies like the FDA, while helping manufacturers monitor their processes better.
Drones are also now being used to deliver medicines and other medical requirements like blood at remote locations. The successes in online medicine delivery in urban areas will therefore be replicable in small and remote towns and villages,
Another important field to benefit immensely from digital technology is health insurance, where digitization is much required to meet the post pandemic surge in demand, in processes such as policy issual, renewal and error-free claims settlement. Further, premium under-writing using data science will encourage healthy behaviour and the focus will also shift to wellness and prevention.
The importance of wellness has never been recognized as much as it has been in recent times. The pandemic has demonstrated that the most vulnerable are patients with pre-existing disease, especially chronic conditions and It is, therefore, no surprise that virtual fitness programs are seeing a significant boost, and the use of wearable technology is becoming widespread. Areas like healthy food and nutrition are also coming to the forefront and witnessing higher focus from the research community
While COVID remains our prime focus., It has also surfaced an alternate pandemic that has been raging for a while now. Mental health challenges not restricted to temporary stress-induced anxiety but chronic mental conditions like depression are affecting a large part of the global population. The availability of qualified clinicians is too low to handle the scale of the problem, and technologies assisting diagnosis are non-existent. Fortunately, solutions that use Artificial Intelligence and mobile apps that provide counselling are emerging to address this problem, which promises to remain a huge challenge for populations worldwide.
Given the more prominent role that technology will play in transforming th healthcare system, I visualise a big role will be played by startups that are leveraging emerging technologies like AI,AR/VR and IoMT to disrupt the entire spectrum from wellness to treatment, and make patient outcomes and experiences better. The present challenging time provides startups an opportunity to help the established institutions modernise and democratise the healthcare system, to battle the long-standing issue of access to high quality and affordable care. It is perhaps time to seize the opportunity and bring to bear the moment that bestselling author Dr Eric Topol envisions, when we will hear the words, “The patient will see you now”.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house
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