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Is AI integration posing a challenge to the healthcare industry?

As the clock strikes 2 in the afternoon, Latha’s phone rings. It is from an expert at IIT Mumbai to discuss the data they’ve been collecting from primary schools on malnourished and obese children and the ailments these could lead to in the long run, through Unite, a healthcare IT platform which helps predict healthcare issues in the future analyzing today’s data.

“The AI engine comes with suggestions on lifestyle changes/diet changes that can help the children grow healthier,” says Latha Shyam, partner - Castle IT Solutions, the developers of this platform. “Unite is a healthcare IT Platform that provides citizens, doctors, healthcare providers, insurance companies and government exchange data to manage the well-being of citizens.”

She is now on a lookout for doctors and clinics who would be interested in using this platform to predict future health issues and prescribe preventive measures accordingly. However, Latha is not alone in this spree. Over the last few years, since Artificial Intelligence (AI) and disruptive technology have taken over the world, one of the sectors that have benefited the most from the same is undoubtedly the healthcare sector. Statistically speaking, according to a report, key clinical health and AI applications can potentially create a $150 billion in annual savings for the US healthcare economy alone by 2026. Imagine the global impact that AI would have.

Regionally too, some of the most well-known healthcare brands like Aster, NMC, Thumbay and more have begun adapting to the technological revolution.

 

Striving towards paperless hospitals

“Aster strives to be at the benchmark of digital transformation,” says Dr. Sherbaz Bichu, CEO of Aster Hospitals. “Our vision is to become a paperless hospital for which we’ve started taking mini-steps by using automation and digitization techniques in the hospital’s day to day transactions and patient communication.”

 

 Dr. Sherbaz

 

From web chat options to online appointment bookings, online patient portals and online insurance approvals, Aster has embraced digitization with open arms. They have, in fact, altered their recruitment strategies to suit the purpose. They are now hiring techno-savvy employees who’d be able to adjust quickly to the new systems and utilize them in a better way.

Sherbaz believes that this move would save up a lot of time which was otherwise invested in non-clinical jobs like enrolling patients, scanning their documents and so on. “We aim to utilize automation to take away the non -clinical tasks from nurses/ doctors/ paramedics so their productive hours are spent in personalized patient care instead of doing clerical tasks.”

Dr. Reem Osman, CEO of Saudi German Hospital (SGH) seconds the thought. She says that previously a lot of time was wasted in doing the regular mundane tasks. Now that the patient can self-checkin for a particular service, that same customer service representative can be used to attend the patient in need of care or assist with waiting times.

 

Dr. Reem Osman

 

Aster has also implemented Smart QMS, digitally driven complaint management system, tele ICU, closed-loop medication system, diagnostic equipment interfacing with HIS and more to facilitate better care for their patients. The SGH, on the other hand, has implemented the Robotic Pharmacy for Out-Patient operations, which helps the pharmacist to provide information about the medicines to the patients instead of running to racks, Balanced Score Cards, Business Intelligence Dashboards, and Patient Engagement Systems.

 

The Challenges

But is there a need to be careful about the rapid digital advancements? With so many innovations happening around, it sometimes becomes difficult to choose what to say no to. Are hospitals being responsible enough to ask themselves if they’re actually ready for the transformations and the risks involved in the process?

According to Reem, the SGH has been a bit precautious before adapting to the digital transformations around.: “Digital transformation isn’t only the job of the IT department, every business unit has its role. We can expect the IT department to guide us with the selection of proper technology and implement it but in order to have meaningful and effective use, all related departments have to be in sync.”

According to Reem, the following factors need to be well considered before technological adaptations:

- Adequate skills of business users
- Adaptation attitude of patients

While one may be able to recruit the right people to operate the latest technology, one cannot really predict the adaptation attitude of the patients, who are majorly still trying to get used to the systems. Moreover, patients still require human-touch as emotional comfort with the doctor plays an important part in his overall recovery.

To this, Sherbaz says: “The human touch to the patient is not taken away. Rather, we have made it possible for patients to fast-track healthcare services using technology, as time is a very critical aspect in today's world. We ensure that technology doesn't camouflage our very purpose of existence which is empathetic services to mankind.” Reem too adds that the AI is usually adapted to assist the doctor and the nurses rather than replacing them from the scene altogether.

“For instance, for X-rays (assuming to detect bone fracture), the initial need would be to know  ‘Fracture’ or ‘No Fracture’ followed by in-depth analysis. Consider the radiologist has to go through 500 of them on a busy day, his KPI will be to finish the reporting first. Now, if technology helps the radiologists to separate the fractured ones, then his analysis will be more qualitative.” Indeed, when clerical work can be taken care of by AI, there would not only be more time on the hands of the doctors but the possibility of human error would be reduced to a great extent.

The biggest challenge, however, is to understand which technology should be adopted. Not every machine will solve every problem. Even within those, there are degrees of problems AI can solve. Hence, the failure rate should also be considered because there is not enough transparent information available to help doctors choose the right technology. “The failure isn’t because technology is bad, the failure occurs because the right technology wasn’t chosen and the right method of implementation wasn’t adapted,” says Reem.

 

Precautious adaption is the cure

While technological advancements are a boon to the society, hospitals must be careful with regards to which technology are they adapting and how would the same be implemented. “Technology gives us opportunities for better collaboration, creating a synergy between patient, professionals, providers, and machines. It also gives us better insights, predictive analytics to optimize services and eliminate wastes and real-time entries contributes towards prompt treatments. In conclusion, I must say that technology plays a vital role in uplifting the entire healthcare ecosystem,” concludes Sherbaz.