Opinion

For healthcare, AI is what the doctor ordered

Venky Ananth | Updated on October 14, 2020 Published on October 14, 2020

Kapil Dev has invested in Harmonizer India, an AI company in the energy efficiency segment.   -  Getty Images/iStockphoto

Artificial Intelligence is already being trialled variously, from predictive measures to drug discovery and precision medicine

Artificial Intelligence is more than just a buzzword. From unlocking your smartphone using face recognition and personalised feeds on your social media accounts to the customer service chatbot on your travel or food delivery app that just offered you a refund, AI is becoming ubiquitous in our daily lives.

This AI adoption is now on the upswing among businesses across industries. Aware of its transformational power, the healthcare industry — physicians, payers, insurers, pharma companies — are looking at leveraging AI technologies.

The revival of AI in the past few years is owing to the massive data explosion generated by billions of connected devices, sensors and the leap in computational power. In addition, it is driven by today’s patients who are ready to play a bigger role in their treatment processes and quality of care. They are more accepting of telemedicine, wearable medical devices, medical apps and home-based diagnostics.

While AI is permeating the healthcare industry, there are three areas it will hugely impact in the coming years, delivering cost-efficiency and hyper convenience.

Customer service: Consumerisation of healthcare is already changing the ways in which internet-savvy users engage with insurers and physicians, driven by the quick-gratification trend. Amongst the numerous customer queries that payers receive during enrolment or post meeting, around 60 per cent revolve around eligibility, benefits, claim status or authorisation. On-demand access to these routine queries using AI-backed messaging and voice systems will offer around-the-clock assistance enabling organisations to deliver seamless services while saving costs.

Population health: AI algorithms can analyse complex, gigantic amounts of data and connect the dots in real-time to identify high-risk patients susceptible to diseases and conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, Congestive Heart Failure (CHF), etc. Moreover, it will be able to identify patients at the risk of re-admission or highlighting those with an increased chance of returning to the hospital within 30 days of discharge. This will reduce the overall cost of patient care.

Devices data: Needless to say, digitisation of health records has become pervasive. Physicians, health plans and wellness consultants are now harnessing troves of data from connected devices to gain valuable insights. Combining holistic patient data with the clinical data, they can optimise services and improve treatment outcomes.

Virtual care will continue to pick up speed with patients, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic, increasingly drawn towards anytime, anywhere healthcare services from the comfort of their homes. Telemedicine has come a long way in terms of both healthcare delivery and technology. A major role in this was played by NASA and ISRO. The setting up of the National Telemedicine Taskforce by the Health Ministry, in 2005, paved the way for the success of various projects such as the ICMR-Arogyasree, NeHA and VRCs.

The challenges

AI as a tool for healthcare is promising, but it does come with certain foundational barriers. For an AI solution to be successful, it requires vast amounts of data. However, data is altogether an opportunity as well as a significant threat due to the ambiguity around data ownership as well as the need to leverage it in a secure way. Also, AI being a relatively new technology implies significant capital and operational expenditure for stakeholders.

This is further affected by changing priorities due to evolving market dynamics around areas such as modernisation of legacy technology, ‘build versus buy’ decisions, implementation of mandates, etc. Given these considerations, the adoption of a relatively new technology that is beginning to go mainstream may not always be on the highest order of preference for players in the industry.

AI is already being trialled for several healthcare and research purposes, from predictive measures and efficient healthcare services to drug discovery and precision medicine. But in order to successfully implement AI, it is essential to develop and use it in an ethical and transparent manner. Physicians and care providers must apply secure encryption to all patient data as well as ensure there is limited access to medical background and history.

Insurers must have up-to-date technical/IT infrastructure that can monitor all searches, uploads and downloads on their corporate network including large batch files of the patient, research, financial, or other sensitive data. The way forward to powering the healthcare revolution calls for the entire ecosystem to become more cohesive and tech driven. In a nutshell, strategic partnerships and breakthrough tech advancements will enable efficiency and innovation in healthcare, making it a win-win for patients and organisations alike.

The writer is Senior Vice President & Global Head of Healthcare at Infosys

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Published on October 14, 2020
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