By Vijender Singh
Technology has been one of the biggest drivers of improvement in the field of healthcare in modern times. Since the start of the information era, the latest technological innovations are extending the limits of our healthcare systems to enable better care for patients worldwide. The past couple of years through the pandemic have been a true demonstration of this, with tech-driven innovation enabling large-scale diagnosis, vaccine development and population health management, all at a pace and scale never seen before in human history.
The impact of technology in health care can be broadly categorized into three broad areas – improvement in treatment, improvement in access and the last one which has lately gained significance is population health management.
Improvement in treatment is the hardest problem to crack. New treatment options like drugs, vaccines, diagnostics are expensive to create, take a considerable amount of time and suffer from a high failure rate. Modern drug discovery has rapidly paced up with the use of supercomputers which can simulate millions of molecular combinations faster than ever. These are now being coupled with machine learning models and self-learning AI to improve efficiency and success rate.
Similarly, in diagnostics, AI and machine learning are being used to develop models for better and faster diagnosis of diseases like cancer. Google recently announced an AI which can spot breast cancer better than radiologists. New diagnostics techniques like capsule endoscopy (a small ingestible camera) are providing never-before quality medical imaging data for diagnosis.
In other critical areas, 3D printing has been revolutionizing prosthetics developments. Researchers can already 3-D print living skin, tissues, blood vessels. The first 3-D printed drug has already been approved by US FDA. Robotics surgery has been around for some time now, research is going on to enhance this with Virtual/Augmented Reality solutions for doing complex surgical procedures remotely.
Providing large-scale healthcare access has been a problem around the world. This is further exasperated in developing countries where the scale of the problem, lack of resourcing and the economics of it make access to healthcare harder. The digital health ecosystem in India is making good strides in helping solve this problem.
Tele/online consultation services are providing access to medical expertise which were traditionally restricted to larger cities in India. E-Pharmacies are already delivering products across most pin codes of our country. Healthcare organizations are doing pilots with drones for faster transportation of medicines, lab samples etc. from harder to access locations.
Healthcare monitoring is expected to transform itself with significant improvements in sensors across personal health and IoT devices. With the widespread usage of health trackers and smartphones, preventive or proactive health management is seeing an immense uptake backed by technological solutions which are allowing us to understand our healthcare requirements on our own. It’s not new knowledge that treating diseases earlier is better.
Digital Therapeutics (DTx) is another emerging field that is unlocking large scale disease management programs in a very cost-effective and automated way. Research-backed therapies are being developed to help patients manage a wide range of diseases like diabetes, cancer, mental health disorders etc. with the help of evidence-based software programs. The same solutions are also unlocking a new “personalized” approach to treatment with data-backed treatment plans customized to each individuals’ requirements.
AI-based technologies hold immense potential for this too. From being able to support doctors in providing faster treatment to helping patients with preliminary diagnosis, alerting them of critical healthcare conditions well in-time for proper treatment.
A critical component that is powering this technology advancement is healthcare data management. Personal Health Records (PHR) systems have evolved a lot in the past decade. A lot of work is being done to ensure that health records have standardization, accuracy, and interoperability. Smart EHR systems are key to enabling more advanced technologies.
An evolved PHR ecosystem also paves the way for population health management. Coupled with modern data science and big-data advancements, we now have the capability to plan and predict societal healthcare patterns like disease outbreaks, deficiencies, vaccination requirements etc. We have seen an early example of this during the pandemic where governments across the world used data-backed models to manage the disease across the population.
To conclude, as advancements in technology continue to develop so will our ability to deliver care to patients. As the technologies like artificial intelligence, robotics, augmented reality become more mature we are at the cusp of large leaps in our healthcare capabilities. The future of healthcare is technology-driven, for sure.
(The author is the Chief Executive Officer, Metropolis Healthcare Ltd. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the FinancialExpress.com.)