View from India: Connecting the Unconnected in Healthcare


We can probably expect a time when biology will be data driven. Data encoding in biology can open up new opportunities in science. This should lead to a paradigm shift as the frontiers of science widen.

In hindsight, astronomy has enabled the growth of computer science. And computer science has opened up the applications of deep learning. This is one side of the story. On the other hand, biology has benefited from computer science. “Complex biology operations are possible using computer science as a basis. Continuing this, biological computing is expected to emerge, ”said Professor Vijay Chandru, Center for Bio-Systems Science and Engineering, the Indian Institute of Science, speaking at the Digital Technologies and Precision Health webinar held by Carnegie India in partnership with Plaksha University (Mohali).

The next step may take place when scientist-researchers strategize to design biology. Data encoding in biology can become a reality and can be described as a step forward in scientific progress. It would be nice if some kind of diagnostic services could emerge from solutions based on computer science and bioinformatics solutions; it would be even better if it could be packaged for intensive care units, as not everyone can have access to the highest level of health care. This can happen if solutions can be scaled to extend the footprint nationwide and are affordable.

Several segments of healthcare have gone digital. For example, pathology processes are automated because hundreds of samples can be taken in a day.

One outcome related to the pandemic is genome sequencing, as variations in the viral genome must be monitored to assess the spread of the pandemic. There is a widespread deployment of sequencing technology; how this might become a preferred choice for clinical use would make it interesting. “There is a push to build the capacity to pursue genome projects. India has sequencing platforms like the Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology in Delhi, the Center for Cellular & Molecular Biology in Hyderabad, the Council of Scientific & Industrial Research Institutions, the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore and the All India Institute of Medical Science in Delhi, ”said Chandru.

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) can be used to understand human genomic makeup. AI applications are leveraged to gain insight into complex healthcare. “IA-ML can help diagnose imaging in radiology. It can also streamline diagnostic time and help patients who do not have access to health care. The applications of AI are diverse, ”added Genya V Dana, head of healthcare at the World Economic Forum. Perhaps the technology can make chest x-rays easier, especially in cases where pollution is causing chest congestion.

The next step is to determine the possibilities of AI-ML solutions for physician-patient interactions. The convergence of AI-ML can be used for predictive analysis, genetic screening, testing and sequencing. And if it can be scaled to a global scale, then maybe there is nothing like it. It can lead to precision medicine. “However, there is a downside to this. Patient genomic data needs protection because the information is sensitive and private. The ability to diagnose and derive information raises ethical issues of confidentiality, ”Dana warned.

Along with healthcare, records have also been digitized. Digital health records have the potential to change the healthcare system in India. “Online health records and digital lockers are essential for national health programs. A framework as well as governance issues must be constructed for the health data of individuals. He will report to Ayushman Bharat, whose goal is to achieve universal health coverage, ”Chandru explained. When we look at the health identity of individuals, we remember how the cadastres were digitized. This example is perhaps worth following.

Other examples are the Pan India initiatives such as the Unique Individual Identification Number, which we know as Aadhaar. The other national initiative is the vaccine against Covid-19. Both projects have reached their scale, as they have given 1.3 billion citizens a certified identity. Given their success, it would be good if a similar exercise could be carried out nationally in the healthcare segment. This might turn out to be an opportunity to be skipped, but it has to be built from the ground up.

In summary, technology can help improve healthcare in India. Encouragement can come from verticals of communication such as mobile technology. From a digital perspective this makes sense, but it remains to be seen how healthcare can be promoted and become accessible to the masses. Primary health centers (PHCs) can probably fill the gap, but infrastructure such as uninterrupted power supply and consumables, including syringes and oxygen, must be in place for the proper functioning of PHC. At the same time, if there is a shortage of healthcare workers, nurses and PHC assistants, this needs to be addressed to improve the doctor-patient ratio, and healthcare workers need a training. They must be skilled in the use of point-of-care diagnostic devices so that they can mediate between physician and patient.

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