Connected healthcare is a shot in the arm for India

Shriranga Mulay, Vice President: Development Engineering, NTT emphasises that new technologies like AI and IoT are helping to make healthcare more affordable and accessible for people all over India

Much of India’s population has limited access to quality healthcare, especially in rural areas. Where hospitals or clinics do exist, the standard of the services on offer can vary wildly and the cost of care might be beyond the means of many patients.

But, just as technologies like AI, 5G and IoT are shaking up industries like telecommunications and manufacturing, they also herald the arrival of a new era of fast and accessible healthcare.

Telehealth powered by IoT

IoT devices and edge computing are turning India’s healthcare sector into a truly connected industry. For instance, wearable sensors can continually monitor diabetics’ glucose levels and transmit the data to cloud-based applications for assessment and feedback to the patients.

The technology also supports telehealth and remote patient monitoring, as IoT sensors can collect data on a patient to share with a doctor they are consulting remotely. This reduces the cost of providing health services and speeds up patient care, as it’s no longer a problem if the best medical consultant is located in another city. Doctors can also diagnose patients remotely and prescribe medication, monitor them closely or direct them to a hospital that offers the services they need.

Furthermore, some of India’s larger hospitals are already using IoT sensors to keep track of essential staff and medical equipment so that no time is wasted during emergencies.

And, while the take-up of 5G in India is still accelerating, its ability to provide high-speed and highly secure connectivity will only make using these applications more effective – for example, by enabling patients to share high-resolution video and images during telehealth consultations.

AI-assisted diagnosis and treatment

Adding to this wave of healthcare innovation is the rise of AI-enabled tools that can draw on decades’ worth of medical data to assist doctors with diagnoses and treatments. AI can already assess blood samples in testing for diseases such as cancer. It is faster than manual testing and can help diagnose cancer at a far earlier stage of the disease.

Indirectly, this can also benefit the health insurance industry. Insurance providers are often unaware of the current medical condition of their customers. But, thanks to remote patient monitoring, selected data can be shared with these providers to help them plan their coverage and step up fraud detection. Fewer fraudulent claims means more money saved, translating into a return on their investment in AI and the speedier resolution of customers’ valid claims.

New technologies bring new challenges, too

While the technology is rapidly forging ahead, it has necessitated an increase in cybersecurity and in data privacy requirements such as the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation.

Healthcare professionals must be able to share patient data without the risk of revealing the identity of a patient. Mainstream IT security has evolved a lot, but this is less applicable to wearable technologies and IoT sensors, which are likely to carry sensitive patient data.

Since AI is still evolving and relies solely on the underlying machine-learning algorithms and data sources, the results depend on the accuracy of these algorithms and data points and may not be 100 per cent accurate. If an AI tool prescribes a course of antibiotics for a patient, how much can a doctor trust the recommendation? The safety of patients cannot be left to trial and error. However, there are already instances of AI that provide feedback with much higher levels of accuracy to help doctors make diagnoses.

For a long time, healthcare organisations’ IT teams only had to keep hospital management systems running. Now, they require a much broader range of skills and resources to keep up with these fast-evolving requirements around compliance and security – and, most importantly, the convergence of IT, IoT and operational technology, underpinned by cybersecurity.

Healthcare providers are therefore opting to work with Managed Service Providers (MSPs) not only to overcome these challenges but also to help them innovate faster and more efficiently.

Managed service providers offer expertise on demand

MSPs are well placed to keep their clients up to date in terms of data privacy and security, and their knowledge typically spans the entire ecosystem. At NTT, for example, we have extensive experience not only in private 5G, IoT and edge-computing infrastructure but also in the cloud-based infrastructure and applications that process and analyze these data streams – and, ultimately, the data centers themselves.

Having access to all of this expertise on-demand means healthcare providers can move faster to realise the benefits of new technology – and just in time, as India’s economy is growing while the lag in new technology reaching the country has nearly disappeared.

Connected healthcare is now poised to take AI-supported telehealth and remote patient monitoring into the mainstream, both in India and around the world.

digital healthinnovationIoTtechnology
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