Much of the world’s attention is now focused on one of the largest industries in the world – healthcare. This is also evident from the India Budget FY 22 where the sector has received a 137% boost in allocation. A recent report observes that even though India’s healthcare firms were relatively slow to start, many of them are now looking at harnessing the power of Artificial Intelligence (AI) since the time of coronavirus and believe its impact will be even greater post the pandemic.
The many benefits of AI in healthcare
The report titled AI: Embracing the shift in healthcare, was conducted interviews of 50 CXOs from large healthcare organisations across India, summarizes the opportunities and challenges that AI presents for India’s healthcare sector, factors driving its adoption, practical insights into its functioning in the Indian context gathered through a primary survey with C-suite executives in healthcare organisations and recommendations for its future prospects.
“AI is the new normal and is embracing the shift in healthcare,” confirms the report that is co-authored by research teams led by Dr Vishal Talwar from BML Munjal University and Karan Arora from Beast Global.
“The development and application of AI techniques in healthcare are helping to improve the diagnostic process. AI technology is assisting pathologists in making more accurate diagnoses and developing methods for individualized medical treatment,” said the report authors.
In drug discovery, Pharmaceutical companies are adopting AI to improve the efficiency and accuracy of drug creation. AI is helping to enhance the patient experience and improve access to quality healthcare. Further, it is helping to improve the operational efficiency of hospitals that can substantially reduce the costs of running day to day business.
The report also finds a majority of executives surveyed said they have an AI strategy in place with 64% per cent stating that AI is of high priority in terms of organizational strategy. However, 75% of respondents find themselves in the early stages of adoption of AI and of other new age technologies. Interestingly among the top 6 emerging technologies of AI, Cloud Computing, IoMT, 3D printing, big data analytics, robotics being adopted in the healthcare sector AI is the highest adopted, followed by cloud computing and the internet of medical things.
Organizations plan to accelerate their AI strategy in the near future. 74% state this of high priority. The impact of COVID-19 has been mixed on the adoption level, however, more than half (54%) have said that it has paced up plans to adopt AI even further.
Those who have deployed AI-based tools and solutions, 98% of the participants are already seeing moderate to significant benefit from their AI strategy and adoption. And a majority expects to see further significant benefit in the next 4-5 years from AI adoption. The top areas where organizations expect to see significant benefits from AI strategy are in operational efficiency, disease detection and diagnostics, patient satisfaction and cost savings.
It is expected that the Indian market for AI in healthcare is expanding at a fast pace and is estimated to be worth Rs. 431.97 billion by 2021, expanding at a rate of 40%. Several factors in India are providing favorable tailwinds. These are a combination of government investments, the boom of health-tech start-ups, and increasing market competitiveness among hospitals.
The National Strategy for Artificial Intelligence (NSAI) is one such initiative of the government which is encouraging companies in healthcare to adopt AI. Under NITI Aayog, healthcare has been mentioned as the core beneficiary from the NSAI. A Task Force on AI has been deployed to browse and explore new avenues where AI can be used and subsequently leveraged. The prospect of introducing cognitive systems to help specially-abled people and the ageing population has been highlighted.
One of the most defining trends in helping establish AI in everyday healthcare has been the boom in health tech start-ups, states the report. As of 2020, there were 3,225 start-ups in India in the health tech space. India’s health-tech market is also estimated to reach $21 billion in 2025 with preventive healthcare expected to reach a market size of $170 billion by 2025, driven strongly by fitness and wellness apps and diagnostics solutions.
A new research by IDC Healthcare Insights also reveals that more than 50% of healthcare firms expect an increase in demand for AI-based solutions during and after the pandemic in the Asia Pacific and India has joined the bandwagon in a big way. Healthcare providers in the country that were already into EMR and AI-based imaging solutions tools were quick in deploying AI to tackle Covid-19. As the complexity of diseases increases and to ensure a value-based care system, physicians will look for support for a clinical decision support system (CDSS), leveraging the power of quality patient data and AI.
“We are seeing the demand for AI/ML bolster in the Indian Healthcare space primarily driven by use cases like diagnosis, drug discovery, patient monitoring, and others,” said Rishu Sharma, Principal Analyst, Cloud and Artificial Intelligence, IDC India. However, he said that cost, lack of skilled personnel, and data trustworthiness are among the top barriers in the adoption of AI solutions in the country.
Likewise, the BML report noted that high capital requirements remain to be the key challenge to implementing AI strategies within healthcare organisations. Executives also strongly feel that the potential impact on jobs (reduction due to automation) is a big challenge towards implementation. Given that AI is expected to leave numerous low-skilled jobs redundant in the next decade, executives need to manage this skilfully. The lack of knowledge and skills is another major barrier (similar to various other industries) as the nature of work changes and the workforce needs to be reskilled to work effectively with emerging technologies like AI.
On the positive note, three-fourths of the participants are also seen to be investing heavily in the up-gradation of skills of the current workforce with respect to AI with 66% respondents stating that AI-related skills and knowledge is a priority for hiring. Also as much as 96% of executives say that current health care education needs significant up gradation in India to keep pace with changing technologies.
AI deployments speeding up
Also in India, the healthcare departments are deploying AI based technology in recent months to keep the virus in check. The Karnataka Government launched AI-driven movable hospital to contain the spread of the virus during the covid-19 pandemic.
The Apollo Hospitals Group in India has deployed Zebra Medical Vision’s AI technology that identifies and quantifies suspected Covid-19 findings on conventional chest CTs and monitor disease progression. Fortis Hospital is already using robot for COVID-19 screening. The initiative, introduced in Bangalore, has been taken to screen every visitor including doctors, nurses, medical and non- medical staff entering the hospital.
“The pandemic has highlighted the potential of innovations in healthcare, especially MedTech. Digital technologies are increasingly transforming healthcare to make it more effective, efficient, and above all, more humane,” said Gerd Hoefner, Managing Director and President, Siemens Healthineers. As the use of machine learning and other AI technologies in healthcare continue to increase, Siemens Healthineers is investing in training to enable our engineers to apply their digital skills to solve various real-world problems.
“From SIRI to self-driving cars, AI is progressing rapidly, making our everyday lives more convenient. While this surge is impacting all the fields, Artificial Intelligence is especially rising in the analysis, interpretation, and comprehension of complicated medical and healthcare data. The greater potential of AI lies in the synergies generated by using new age tech together across the entire patient journey, from diagnosis to treatment, to ongoing health maintenance, etc.,” said Dr Talwar.
The AI adoption numbers in healthcare are still low, but research shows there are many more such examples to come up in the future, As Manoj Vallikkat, Research Manager for IDC Asia/Pacific Healthcare, suggested, it is imperative for the healthcare organizations in India to drive human-machine collaboration and AI-driven interfaces to address the future care needs in the country.