Has health-tech reached an inflection point in the post COVID era?

The entire healthcare infrastructure worldwide was met with unprecedented challenges during the Covid-19, overwhelming the existing healthcare system. This has led to sudden interest by the hardware manufacturers and software technology players to integrate innovative health-tech devices to optimise healthcare solutions.

However, while there is a modicum of acceptance of the essential health-tech solutions for the diagnosis and early symptom recognition, most of health-tech still remains unexplored at an implementation level. There is an urgent need for comprehensive health-tech solutions to cater to clinical, non-clinical and administrative services. The inclusion of Big Data, Cloud Computing, Sensors, Artificial Intelligence, along with Augmented or Virtual Reality, will help in creating a robust and reliable digital information system. It will also dramatically improve the quality, reliability, usability, accessibility and affordability of healthcare.

Through health technology, a variety of sources such as sensors, mobile phones, e-mail and software applications acquire and record data, thus maintaining patient condition and more accurate data collection irrespective of geographic boundaries. This is particularly useful for people who do not have immediate physical access to healthcare facilities. Furthermore, real-time sharing of this data with the healthcare providers and specialists allows quick and consultative diagnosis and medical intervention if necessary. It also ensures solutions that provide almost real-time second opinions to reduce errors.

The role of IoT becomes all the more critical in a country like India, with a population of 1.39 billion. In our country, IoT screening is essential for preventing communicable diseases from attaining a pandemic level. It will also play an instrumental role in making the doctors, nurses and other healthcare providers more efficient, thereby mitigating the prevailing acute shortage situations.

Despite these multitudinous advantages, the acceptance of IoT in health-tech is still limited even in metropolitan cities of the country. For it to become a driving force, there is a need for the entire healthcare system today to recognise the importance of including fundamentals of technology at the academic level in the medical curriculum. Making health-tech a part of the traditional curriculum can only bring in a paradigm shift in our approach. Today, the majority of the IoT systems utilise a user interface that acts as a dashboard for medical caregivers. Since the goal is to facilitate proactive care for affected patients and to deliver value-based care, corporate India can offer comprehensive solutions for clinicians to help manage, collect and interpret the data for population healthcare management at a lower cost.

It is also noteworthy that building new technology will not alone bring real change. The existing system must recognise the vitality of making doctors, medical professionals more receptive and comfortable with using technology in their everyday lives for health-tech to be optimised completely. For instance, to prevent the spread of communicable diseases, keeping a regular check of the patient's vitals is mandatory. The health-tech industry offers a wide array of IoT devices that can be used for remote care monitoring. Through IoT devices, vitals such as blood pressure, blood sugar, oxygen saturation, temperature, ECG, etc., can be reflected in the patient's mobile application, and the medical professional can real-time monitor these. These solutions help in securely managing patient health data and make it easy for the healthcare provider to offer helpful advice. In addition, it would better monitor the patient's health indicators, keeping a check on any shortfalls to avoid further complications. It is up to us to adopt these methods and participate in the best way possible to assist the physicians in making quicker and more accurate decisions.

No matter what level of advanced technology is developed, at the end of the day, we will always trust human beings (domain experts) more than machines. Especially as far as healthcare is concerned - contextual and subjective interpretation of data is a critical element in finding the most effective diagnosis and treatment plan. It is important to acclimatise medical professionals to use technology from an elementary level to build an attitude that does not hesitate from using it to optimise the results. In the current scenario, the adoption and absorption of IoT in healthcare are inconsistent and inadequate across the industry. And it can only change if the stakeholders' participatory efforts are focused on the inclusion of IoT across the healthcare industry at every level.

While IoT holds the promise of revolutionizing healthcare by providing better care and more effective treatments at reduced costs, it is up to the ecosystem to equip our medical professionals with appropriate data, knowledge, and the right attitude to optimise the health-tech to its full potential. The intent must be followed by authentic, actionable change. So far, we have only touched the tip of the iceberg and have a long way to go until health technology is adopted by the masses and becomes a part of the mainstream healthcare system.

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