Making India Healthy Again, One Bot at a Time
Often touted as India’s ‘trillion dollar opportunity’, the rise of AI in India has brought in both the merry and the moolah. How will the giant strides made by AI deep learning in 2023 clear the yellow brick road to a healthier India?
January 4, 2024
In Indian healthcare, AI could prove to have the midas touch. AI in healthcare has a rich history since the 60s, notably with the Dendral project analyzing mass spectrometry data. 20th and 21st-century advancements like machine and deep learning have transformed healthcare.
The global AI healthcare market was valued at $11 billion in 2021, projected to reach $188 billion by 2030. In India, AI expenditure surged over 109% to $665 million in 2018, estimated to hit $11.78 billion by 2025, contributing significantly to India's economy.
Major players and healthtech startups, from Columbia Asia Hospitals to Siemens to HealthifyMe and PharmEasy, are actively participating in the AI revolution.
Accessible and lighter on the pocket?
HealthifyMe, with its AI powered Virtual Assistant Ria and its LLM (language learning model) integration upgrade to help its coaches, is an example of an AI healthtech startup plugging a desired outcome in a sore spot — accessibility.
The healthcare landscape in India grapples with several pivotal challenges — uneven expertise distribution, financial constraints, a deficient doctor-patient ratio, delays in detection and diagnostic accuracy, and insufficiently trained staff.
AI’s deep learning abilities hold the potential to help ease some of these complexities. Bengaluru-based startup Tricog launched the AI-powered EinstaECG, a portable machine that helps healthcare providers detect signs of cardiac distress early with accuracy. According to Tricog, EinstaECG aims to turn an 80% chance of cardiac fatality into an 80% survival rate with its precision analysis.
Similarly, Niramai’s Thermalytix (AI-powered tech) is making huge strides in early detection of breast cancer. Its AI-powered no-contact, radiation-free tool offers a low cost solution to expensive scans that require patients to go through multiple healthcare professionals and tests.
Bridging the human skill gap
Mudit Dandwate, CEO & Co-founder of Dozee told The Hindu Business Line that he foresees AI reducing costs significantly. He said, “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.”
The NITI Aayog's National Strategy for Artificial Intelligence highlights a concerning shortage of qualified healthcare professionals and unequal healthcare access in India. With only 64 doctors per 1,00,000 people, well below the global average of 150, addressing these disparities becomes crucial for advancing healthcare in the nation.
While AI can’t plug the gap for shortage of efficient doctors in India, it can help existing doctors be more efficient.
Hospital management systems powered by AI can optimise resource allocation, streamline appointment scheduling, and enhance inventory management. This ensures that healthcare facilities operate smoothly, reducing waiting times for patients and improving the overall quality of care.
Many problems, one solution
AI-powered Virtual Assistants (VAs) play a vital role in expanding healthcare access, particularly in remote areas. During the pandemic, platforms like Practo witnessed increased utilization of telemedicine services and VA-driven Q&As. Beyond mere connectivity, VAs offer initial triage, answer queries, and provide health advice, alleviating the strain on healthcare facilities and allowing them to prioritize critical cases. Moreover, companies like 1mg are leveraging AI to digitize prescriptions, resulting in a 20% reduction in human costs, a 50% improvement in readability, and addressing challenges such as deciphering doctor handwriting, a longstanding concern in the pharmacy domain, according to 1mg Co-Founder Gaurav Agarwal.Bonus: it helped solve the oldest pharmacist’s nightmare in the book — decoding doctor handwritings.
AI healthtech can also prove to be useful for public health. In a country as diverse and populous as India, AI can analyse vast datasets, including demographic information, climate data, and historical health records, to predict and monitor the spread of diseases. Mumbai-based startup Qure.ai goes beyond diagnostic use of its AI models. Its technology is being applied to predict disease outbreaks and monitor epidemiological trends.
While the vast application of AI in Indian healthcare is often touted India’s ‘trillion dollar opportunity’, its implications also throw caution to the wind.
Throwing caution to the wind
Integrating AI into healthtech introduces complexities too. Given the sensitive nature of health data, privacy concerns loom large, necessitating robust security measures to protect patient information, which are currently sparse.
Critical medical decision-making needs crucial transparency. In this area, how AI interprets data can make or break treatments. Ensuring unbiased AI models is paramount is an uphill task in the Indian landscape, where healthcare disparities run amok.
Lack of regulatory frameworks in India add to the struggle of keeping pace with rapid technological advancements. This adds to ethical dilemmas surrounding accountability and transparency.
But paramount is the need for extensive training of healthcare professionals to comprehend and trust AI outputs. Striking a delicate balance between innovation and ethical considerations is essential to ensure patient safety, privacy, and equitable access to an AI-integrated healthcare.
If collaborative efforts by healthcare players to address these concerns pick up speed, AI’s vast potential in health could reach the least denominated player. Who knows, your friendly neighbourhood AI could save your life.
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