Artificial intelligence (AI) is rapidly transforming the healthcare industry in India, bringing unprecedented tools for diagnosis, treatment and patient care. AI expenditure in India is expected to reach $11.78 billion by 2025 and add $1 trillion to India’s economy by 2035, as per a World Economic Forum report. The AI in Healthcare Market is projected to grow from $14.6 Billion in 2023 to $102.7 Billion by 2028.

A report on the National Strategy for Artificial Intelligence by the NITI Aayog showed that shortage of qualified healthcare professionals and non-uniform accessibility to healthcare across the country prevails. India has only 64 doctors available per 1,00,000 people compared to the global average of 150. 

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“AI adaptation in healthcare is still in its early stages; but, it is leading us toward a promising future,” says Niraj Garg, Head of Digital and Automation, Siemens Healthineers. 

Advancements in healthcare with AI

AI is driving advancements in healthcare across various domains, enhancing diagnostics, enabling precision medicine, empowering virtual assistants and chatbots. 

“AI aids in saving time by automating mundane and routine tasks within the daily clinical routine. These time-saving measures allow healthcare professionals to focus more on critical decision-making and delivering quality patient care,” Garg adds. For instance, chatbots help patients to raise their queries regarding appointments, bill payments, and more. Virtual health assistants help in answering patients’ queries via calls and emails, scheduling appointments with doctors, sending follow-ups and clinical appointment reminders to patients, etc. 

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AI-embedded remote patient monitoring systems enable proactive interventions and personalised care for patients with chronic conditions. Moreover, machine learning models are accelerating drug discovery and development, leading to more targeted and effective treatments. 

A nurse positions a robot called DaVinci, that performs delicate operations, for South African surgeons Dr Tim Forgan and Dr Imraan Mia at the Tygerberg hospital in Cape Town, South Africa, July 15, 2022.

A nurse positions a robot called DaVinci, that performs delicate operations, for South African surgeons Dr Tim Forgan and Dr Imraan Mia at the Tygerberg hospital in Cape Town, South Africa, July 15, 2022.

Chaitanya Raju, executive director, HealthPlix Technologies, said, “AI helps reduce the cognitive burden of doctors while treating patients - providing them with critical and relevant information at the point of care. Drug-drug interaction alerts, and chatbots to capture medical history are examples. AI models help with the early detection of patients at high risk of contracting complex chronic diseases. This assists doctors in early treatment of these diseases, thereby lowering the patient burden of surgery care, specialists, etc.”

For example, in cardiovascular healthcare, Microsoft’s AI Network for Healthcare and Apollo Hospitals are developing a machine learning model to predict heart attack risk. Using clinical and lab data from more than 4 lakh patients, the AI solution can identify new risk factors and provide a heart risk score to patients without a detailed health check-up, enabling early disease detection. 

AI-based portable screening devices can expand the capacity for eye screenings and enable access in remote places across the country.

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 Through Google’s AI facility, the prediction of cardiovascular events can now be achieved through the analysis of an individual’s eye scan. This can mark a shift from conventional methods like CT scans, MRIs, and X-rays. “AI offers us the potential for new, less invasive tests for heart health -- predicting cardiovascular results from retinal images with computer vision -- encouraging early results!“ Google CEO Sundar Pichai said. 

“We have almost 100 million old people in the country,” Mudit Dandwate, CEO & Co-founder of Dozee said. “All the high-risk disease population is increasing. And when we look at the population of doctors or nurses, it is not really increasing and we already have a deficit in India. Now in such a scenario, how do we ensure quality care reaches everyone? And I think that is somewhere AI can play a big part.” 

Home Minister Araga Jnanendra inaugurated the ultra-modern Versius Robotic Surgical System at NU Hospitals in Shivamogga.

Home Minister Araga Jnanendra inaugurated the ultra-modern Versius Robotic Surgical System at NU Hospitals in Shivamogga.

The role of healthcare professionals

While AI offers remarkable capabilities, the expertise, intuition, and compassion of healthcare professionals remain indispensable.  

“Amidst the awe-inspiring advancements, one fundamental truth remains: the skill of healthcare professionals will continue to be indispensable in delivering excellent care for patients,” Nivedita Verma, Hospital Director, Surya Mother & Child Super Speciality Hospital, Pune said, “While AI algorithms can process vast amounts of data and identify patterns, the expertise, intuition, and compassion of healthcare professionals make a critical difference.

For example, social, economic and historical factors can play into appropriate recommendations for particular patients. An AI system may be able to allocate a patient to a particular care center based on a specific diagnosis. However, it may not account for patient economic restrictions or other personalised preferences.

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It is important to note that every new medical technology, including AI, will undergo rigorous validation. Garg says, “This ensures that the implementation of AI in healthcare is done in a responsible and compliant manner, prioritising patient safety and well-being.” 

Addressing security concerns

Verma points out the concerns about the implications for patient privacy and potential bias in algorithms. As AI becomes more prevalent in healthcare, it is essential to prioritise data security.  

Digital transformation success is not possible without security. “Security in this context has two avenues,” Hemanta Banerjee, Vice President of Public Cloud Data Services at Rackspace Technology said, “Security and safeguarding of patient data against breaches or data loss and security of the models used in AI against inaccuracies, skewness, and bias.” 

He added that public cloud solutions offer a tested and scalable approach where healthcare teams can securely use analytics and AI models stored in the cloud with governance and security guardrails. 

Companies must follow standard norms and policies to ensure data security and privacy. Garg said, “As a manufacturer, it is crucial to provide transparent information about the capabilities and limitations of the AI component within any product. By openly conveying this information, manufacturers can enhance user adoption and overall satisfaction.”

The cost factor 

Affordability remains a problem with private expenditure accounting for about 70 per cent of healthcare expenses, probably one of the highest in the world. The poor and the marginalised are hit the most, and as per the government estimates, almost 63 million people face poverty every year because of their healthcare expenditure.

AI can make healthcare services affordable and accessible in the remotest areas efficiently. Dandwate says,“I foresee the costs are going to be much, much lesser. I’ll give you an example. Continuous monitoring is only available in ICU beds right now, which is only 1,00,000 beds out of close to about 20 lakh beds in the country. What AI can do is it can monitor any bed at 1/10th the cost of a normal ICU cost. So, in the cost of putting one ICU bed, now you can put 10. That is how the technology creates a disproportionate number of returns when the newest technology comes in.” 

Dandwate says, “You can’t create 1 million doctors overnight. Can you make the existing doctors more efficient? Yes. And that’s what technology does.”