By Dr. Dhruv Joshi
Telephony has been transformed over the last 2 decades with the advent of the internet and connectivity. A telephone is no longer merely an instrument to make phone calls; it has become a smartphone and is a medium that functions as a bank, shop, library, camera, alarm, newspaper and has many more functions too. This has provided access to all these facilities to everyone with a smartphone irrespective of their location. This has empowered all its users and made all these facilities accessible to many of the disenfranchised. We are going to see a similar change in healthcare delivery where traditionally we have been challenged in providing high quality critical care to all our patients.
However, this inequitable distribution of high quality critical care should not be acceptable and it is time to make it a thing of the past! This is possible with the advent of Smart-ICUs, where the ICU bed is connected and digitized. Every patient in that Smart-ICU bed will have real time access to quality doctors and nurses, either physically or virtually via a state-of-the-art technology platform, who can work with the physically located team to ensure that the patient is monitored and managed at world class levels. This Smart-ICU bed could be located in a large hospital in a metro city or a small taluk in a rural setup.
Within a hospital, the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and the services it offers are perhaps the most sought-after space, for in there, the line between life and death is often drawn. The recent pandemic gave us a perspective on how acute shortage of ICU beds leads to loss of lives. However, what was even more telling was that, even if mere physical infrastructure was put in place, even then optimal patient outcomes were scarce. However, when in addition to physical infrastructure remote access to real-time patient data and remote management by trained clinicians was implemented it was found to be invaluable in saving lives. A lot of lessons were learned. Primary, among them, was the urgent need to digitize ICU data and create a connected network to improve not just delivery of ICU services but also the healthcare ecosystem in the country. Taking this one step further it is now clear that the future of equitable healthcare delivery lies in the setting up of digital or smart Intensive Care Units.
The ICU is influenced by the growing presence of medical devices — machines equipped with extraordinary potential to reshape how patient care is being delivered and of course, save more lives. No other department in a hospital generates the quantum of data generated in an ICU. This data is critical and crucial for medical specialists to treat and take decisions, transcending space and time.
It is impractical and ill-advised to have a specialist from every department to remain physically in an ICU. Hence, external access to ICU data becomes critical to saving lives. Caregivers can remotely access a patient’s clinical history and stay abreast of the patient’s status on a minute-to-minute basis through a digitized ICU Platform. A patient’s vital signs and conditions are virtually monitored by using high-definition audio and visual equipment along with software tools, to replace physical monitoring. With all relevant data at the disposal of specialists, they can communicate with intensivists and ICU nurses, and offer real-time support and thereby remotely manage ICU patients.
A greater number of patients in distributed locations can now be managed and monitored more efficiently by ICU medical personnel. Besides, a far greater number of patients across multiple hospitals and ICUs can easily avail of high-end and round-the-clock quality care with the use of Smart-ICUs.
Data Digitized is Time Earned and a Life Saved
We are in the midst of the ‘Age of Data’. The world has seen an exponential increase in information being generated. Raw data thus generated, on its own, may be of little value. But when the data is stored, sorted, and processed, its value is limitless. Every business vertical and enterprise is going the digital way as far as data is concerned. The healthcare industry too is following suit. The latest entrant into this bandwagon is the ICU. Unlike other healthcare departments, raw data generated on a real-time basis itself is invaluable for it determines life and death!
Digitised single source data of patients is immediately available to all attending medical care givers, thereby increasing data accuracy and nullifying duplication. Digitized data when processed by software tools and algorithms helps detect deterioration of patient health vitals very early, and enables doctors to roll lifesaving mechanism protocols.
A big benefit of digitisation of ICU data is that critical data of patients from any hospital can be accessed by specialists, irrespective of their location, to guide and advise the resident doctors of the hospitals on diagnosis, prognosis and treatment options.
The same is also applicable during periods of pandemic. In the context of acute shortage of caregiver resources, doctors and nurses can review digitized data from different parts of the hospital/ home and suggest the next course of action.
Digitization of data generated, right from admittance into hospital to discharge, is useful for the hospital analytics department, legal department, and quality assurance department among others. Finally, digitized records can be shared with patients and their relatives to enhance transparency.
In the long run, digitized data from ICUs can help in R&D and enhance the quality of healthcare services. Data mining and data analytics can extract trends and provide valuable insights into disease patterns, symptom variations, drug efficacy, and a wide variety of such information.
The human brain is not equipped to comprehend such varied and heavy data, in all its dimensions. In the raw format, it would add to the cognitive burden of the nurses and doctors. Advanced analytics and digitalization in the form of Smart-ICUs offer an attractive solution to information overload in the ICUs and will go a long way in assisting better decision-making and reducing mortality rates. This is the future of any equitable healthcare system and while it is gaining ground in many parts of India and other parts of the world – in the interest of our patients Smart-ICUs need to be implemented expediently in every location that has an ICU.
(The author is Co-founder & CEO, Cloudphysician. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of FinancialExpress.com.)