Cloud enables us to focus on our core business

by Sohini Bagchi    May 08, 2013

Srikanth Ramancionh

The Indian healthcare sector is experiencing a rapid transformation with the evolution of newer and more sophisticated IT systems and applications. In an exclusive interaction with CXOtoday, Srikanth Raman,Chief Information Officer at Narayana Hrudayalaya explains how technology can help CIOs in healthcare overcome various challenges and how IT has helped in driving innovation within Narayana Hrudayalaya. An excerpt.

What are the top challenges for a CIO in the healthcare sector? How can IT help overcome some of these challenges?

The primary challenge for a CIO in this sector is to ensure that work goes on as usual without making anyone conscious of what IT is doing and this includes doctors, patients, other caregivers and administrators. This means, the CIO has to ensure round-the-clock and quality services, where IT has a support role to play. At the second level, the role of IT and likewise the CIO is that of an enabler. Here his key challenge is to leverage technology to get the optimized value. This requires him to have accurate clinical data in an analyzable form that can be accessed by the doctor and the patient from anywhere and that requires integration with the mobility platform. The other challenge for a CIO is integration itself where multiple vendors do not conform to a single open standard and there is an unwillingness to allow access to proprietary protocols. The integration of HIS with cloud while ensuring seamless connectivity can answer this challenge. We already have a partnership with SANA (a research group at Harvard/MIT) on mobile healthcare project to foster technology innovation to detect and treat chronic diseases and offer other quality and cost-effective services to the patient community.

What role does IT play in the growth and expansion of Narayana Hrudayalaya? Can you give us an example where IT has helped in driving innovation in the organization?

To explain the role of IT, it is important to understand the growth charter of Narayana Hrudayalaya. The hospital has made great strides, ever since its inception in 2000, and positioned itself as a world-class healthcare facility. We expanded to 15 centers from our primary ones in Bangalore and Kolkata and are associated with over 25 smaller hospitals. We also expanded our beds from 5000 to 30,000 and revisited our infrastructure from time to time. On the whole, the hospital group operates at a global scale that requires an extremely robust and scalable IT infrastructure to keep up with this growth momentum. Because we are in the hospital business, unlike an IT firm, we would not be specialized in building and running every system and technology in-house. A very good example where IT has helped in driving innovation in the organization is the deployment of our cloud architecture. We realized that building and maintaining a data center itself involves tremendous cost and manageability issues. It is then that we opted for a private-hosted model with HCL’s blu Enterprise Cloud’s Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) solution. Although there were some integration challenges initially, taking the complete HIS on the cloud was a game changer for the hospital in terms of cost savings and efficiency. The complete virtualized platform has given us uniform accessibility across our branches alongside adequate control. This also helps us better focus on the business of health care.

How strategic is your role in the organization? What role do you play in decision making?

The healthcare CIO’s role has changed with the change in the technology landscape. Today, IT can no longer play a support role alone. It has become an enabler. At Narayana Hrudayalaya too, the CIO’s role is very strategic. I am expected to drive business value and bring innovation by strategically leveraging IT. CXOs in the organization can make decision based on their domain expertise. For the CIO, it is about how technology can help in growth and in bringing value to the business. I come from a finance background and this enables me to understand technology from a business perspective.

How do you balance between providing affordable healthcare and a sustainable business model that relies on high quality services? How has IT helped in the process?

At Narayana Hrudayalaya, we believe in offering complete cost transparency to our patients and IT plays a key role in balancing both ends. Let me give you an example.Tele-radiology, though initially started for providing convenient services, relieves radiologists from overnight duties, and has evolved into an entity serving the patients, radiology practices and hospitals. The technology is not only cost effective, but it also offers a high quality and timely delivery of radiologic interpretations with qualified and trained radiologists and can reach out to multiple health care facilities. The other area where IT can be used strategically and cost effectively is in the e-health and m-health services. These services have a huge potential to effectively reach out the community. The hospital embarked on telemedicine from an early stage and we cater to patients globally and has also leveraged mobile and the web to provide timely and efficient service. Besides, we have partnered with local healthcare centers to allow care givers and the patient community have access to quality and cost-effective healthcare.

What are the emerging technologies you are optimistic about and how are you leveraging these to bring business value?

On the application front, we are coming up with a clinical diagnostic system, an analytics/BI tool that will support caregivers in critical decision making. The tool will analyze patients’ conditions, compare it with similar scenario and come up with the best outcome. The entire system will be based on a cloud model. The IT team is currently working on enabling the hospital HIS to work, out of a smartphone using apps which would give an acceptable user interface (UI) experience. On the mobility front therefore, you can expect a whole lot of innovation from us in the coming months. I believe that mobile, cloud and analytics or BI will be game changers for CIOs in the healthcare industry. We have completed an EHR deployment for doctors and patients to access information whenever and wherever it is needed. We have rolled out a unique ID for patients to access services across all our centers. Besides, medical reports are automatically emailed to the patients once authenticated. We will also come up with more of e-health and m-health initiatives in the coming months.