• Vinod Bijlani

Digital Healthcare Transformations – Beyond Pandemics

Updated: May 5, 2021

In a world still mired in COVID-19, the healthcare industry is under pressure. With cases mounting and the pandemic running into phases, some hospitals turned into hotspots for infection, disrupting routine healthcare procedures. Others closed their Outpatient Departments (OPDs) fearing the risk of transmission. This crisisset the scene for extensive digital transformations in quality healthcare, lowering costs and saving time.

Although the pandemic sparked off disruptive research and innovation in medical science, advancement in healthcare has seen continuous evolution over time. In this article, I describe the stages of transformation through Covid-19 and beyond.

COVID-19 Drives Teleconsultation Boost

Virtual consultation became the norm in 2020, allowing physicians virtual visits with more patients during their downtime, providing rural hospitals with access to specialist care, and even connecting with physicians in other countries. Notably, it eliminated the need for face-to-face human interactions, and provided healthcare professionals with a wide geographical reach, especially where medical resources were limited.

The pandemic saw a surge in the adoption of teleconsultation services provided by startups like Practo, Teladoc Health, MeMD, doctor on demand, Kry, and accuRx, among others. Some of these additionally provide home care services for several illnesses, giving patients the advantage of remote nursing, cutting the need for hospital visits. They also offer blood tests and medicine delivery, saving patients the hassle of visiting labs and medical stores. Additionally, private consultations via video conferencing software, such as Google Duo, Zoom, and Microsoft Teams, also soared during the contagion. Countries like India, Australia, and the United States allowed patients to receive prescription medication through teleconsultation services, giving it a further impetus. Several patients suffering from non-critical illnesses resorted to telemedicine to consult doctors, minimizing overall costs. A recent consumer survey conducted by American Well reported that 61% of those willing to adopt teleconsultation were in for its convenience and faster service, while 54% would opt-in to save money.

AI-Powered COVID-19 Healthcare Solutions

Teleconsultation may have helped bridge the gap between doctors and patients, but the paucity in healthcare remains a challenge. Several developing countries, like those in Africa, have one doctor for every 10,000 people. The demand for quality healthcare remains high, with most doctors dedicated to COVID-19 treatment and a visible decline in physicians available for non-COVID medical consultations. At a time like this, integratingArtificial Intelligence (AI) with medical systems can help analyze healthcare data to produce an output aiding doctors in highly accurate decision making. The use of AI in healthcare is seen in risk prediction, diagnosis, treatment planning, discovery and development of drugs, and the study of different diseases.

During COVID-19, the initial protracted blood tests were replaced by doctors attempting diagnosis using x-rays and CT scans. The virus and the disease both being new and its characteristics and indications unknown, AI remedied the situation by auto-learning from high volumes of available data and making accurate predictions. Start-ups and organizations, the likes of Qure.ai, DarwinAI,1Qbit, and COVID SWIFT, made AI-based solutions available to doctors. An example in the illustration is the integration of COVID SWIFT’s AI-led solution with WhatsApp, enabling doctors to remotely upload the x-ray images to get an instant and accurate predictive diagnosis.

AI-Driven COVID-19 Vaccine Development

The rapid spread and the high mortality rates of COVID-19 in the initial stages led to a frantic sprint of drug and vaccine development. Traditionally, drug development involves a painstaking trial and error phase, with vaccine development taking several years. In the case of COVID-19, AI helped pace up this process with start-ups such as BenevolentAI, Innoplexus, Deargen, Cyclica at the forefront of repurposing existing drugs, and Insilico Medicine, Exscientia, Iktos, and SRI International, among others, leading vaccine development. Top pharmaceutical companies such as AstraZeneca, Pfizer, GSK, and Sanofi partnered with them, making this the fastest vaccine feat in medical history.

AI in Healthcare: Beyond the Pandemic

COVID-19 helped expose the disparities in healthcare, stepping up digital transformation. While AI has shown its potential in diagnosing and treating the new disease, it has also helped governments in contact-tracing to prevent further transmission. Besides supporting rapid digitization during COVID-19, AI is poised to make a significant impact on other healthcare needs. Consider Indian start-up Niramai, which offers at-home breast health screening that is privacy-aware, no-touch, and non-invasive. Part of the solution is Thermalytix, a computer-aided diagnostic engine that auto-generates a breast health report that can be reviewed by a doctor. Start-ups such as Artelus,Soporis Health, and Sense.ly, use AI to study medical history and monitor symptoms for predictive feedback about an individual's health. US-based start-up Eko.ai uses AI to monitor cardiopulmonary signs of at-home patients for early detection of heart and lung problems. Such solutions give hope for a future of telehealth access that reaches out to patients before they find the need to reach for medical help. Ultimately, a viable transformation is only as healthy as its data privacy and security, an important aspect that cannot be overlooked.

A detailed version of this article has been published at: https://www.cdotrends.com/story/15379/digital-transformation-healthcare-beyond-covid-19

Author: Bijlani Vinod Anand is a thought leader in Data Science, Artificial Intelligence and Internet-of-Things. He has contributed to the design and implementation of Smart City projects, and established intelligent public transportation and traffic ecosystems in India, Singapore, and the US. Vinod is a distinguished inventor with multiple patents in advanced technologies. He envisions a radically safer, healthier and more sustainable planet with the advent of Industry 4.0. For more details on Vinod’s professional background, please refer to - www.vinodbijlani.me

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