Monday, May 27, 2024


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The healthcare system in India has witnessed a paradigm shift in ensuring quality care delivery and care management to citizens in the last decade. Technology has  increasingly been leveraged for better reach and patient care.The application of digital technologies, including artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), data analytics, the internet of things (IoT), cloud computing, and robotics is increasing in each phase of the Indian healthcare system.

Government initiatives:

According to the recently released draft National Strategy for Artificial Intelligence, the increased advances in technology and activity by innovators provide an opportunity to solve long-existing challenges in providing healthcare infrastructure for a large section of the Indian population.

The government is also trying to create a digital health infrastructure nationally, as espoused in the recent policy documents for the National Health Stack (2018) and the National Digital Health Blueprint (2019). Some of the key features of this digital  infrastructure include the Healthlocker, an electronic national health registry and cloud-based data storage system to serve as a single source of national health data; a personal health records (PHR) framework to allow data to be available to citizens and for scientific research; a coverage and claims platform to support health protection schemes; a health analytics platform on a national level; and a uniquely digitally generated health ID for each Indian citizen.

Innovative intervention in digitising Indian healthcare is devised in four broad areas:
Disease detection and diagnostics:

Machine Learning is being used to build decision-support systems for diagnostics, and for predictive systems for prognostication. Computer vision and Deep Learning models are being used to read medical scans such as X-rays, PET scans, CT, and ultrasound scans. AI-based systems are being used for early detection of tumors, using non-invasive, non-touch and non-radiation approaches to detect breast cancer and predicting cancer recurrence through a risk score.AI-based applications now help build systems that can analyse blood through.

Process optimisation:

ML processes are being developed to create higher efficiencies in hospital bed management and processing of insurance claims. A few online platforms that assist with helping find a doctor, storing health records, or getting medicines are using Machine Learning to improve efficiencies.Many have begun automating first-level screening of symptoms and finding doctors.Optical character-reading systems are also being used to scan prescriptions and check medications.

Infrastructure and costs:

AI systems could turn out to be expensive to train, test and deploy. Datasets are expensive to collect and collate, and there is no doubt that computing power and storage space is also expensive. Most healthcare organisations also lack the data infrastructure necessary to collect data needed to optimally train algorithms i.e. to test them for bias, adjust the model, and evaluate field outcomes.

The lack of digital infrastructure to build Artificial Intelligence systems is an added constraint. Cloud-based computing infrastructure is usually concentrated in servers that are outside India. As a result, several start-ups have now been set up outside India. Also, there is a shortage of skilled data scientists.

Access to data:

AI systems are driven by the availability of large amounts of data. In India, datasets for healthcare are fragmented, dispersed and incomplete. Patients often go to different doctors for the same diagnosis or treatment; even large hospitals do not see loyal patients. A large proportion of healthcare providers are unaccredited and informal practitioners. Digitization practices are often poor in India, and not standardized; there is no centralized database for health records in India. Even in large hospitals, every time a patient visits, a new registration number and patient file is issued, and prescriptions are handwritten.

Efforts are on to digitise the Indian healthcare system with plans for an Integrated Health Information Program (IHIP) to create Electronic Health Records (EHRs) for all citizens. This will also allow the interoperability of existing EHRs. However, healthcare workers are often overworked, and may not be able to invest the time and effort needed.

It is the need of the hour in India to ensure the digitization of data by laying the groundwork, a revolution in adopting AI & ML will not be seen unless this is resolved. Employing AI and ML in care delivery and care management will allow healthcare professionals to gain a better understanding of patient needs in order to provide better guidance and support for maintaining good health; Indians must leverage this to the best.

(The writer, Dr Suman Katragadda is the founder & CEO of

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