Technology can be leveraged to empower lay screeners and trained technical staff

In today’s world, technology plays a crucial role in all industry as well as in our personal lives. Among them, Healthcare is one of the most important industries where technology plays a vital role. This fusion is responsible for saving and improving countless lives all around the world. Dr Kaushik Murali, President Medical Administration, Quality & Education, Sankara Eye Foundation India, in conversation with, shares his perspective on use of technology in healthcare

How do you think technology can boost up the healthcare?

Medical technology is a huge field where innovation plays an important role in sustaining lives. Areas like pharmaceuticals, information technology, biotechnology, the development of medical equipment & devices, and more have all made major contributions to refining the health of people all around the world.

In eye care, in our organization we have been leveraging technology in the following domains:

Diagnosis & treatment of eye conditions – today the OCT allows us to analyse the 10 layers of the retina to evaluate which of the layers is affected by a disease process and also study the progression of the condition.

Screening for preventable and curable conditions – one of the biggest barriers to healthcare is access and availability of care. Technology can be leveraged to empower lay screeners and trained technical staff to screen and triage patients requiring referral. We have used technology as vision screeners with lay screeners to identify eye defects in children. We have also created a mobile vision center which screens patients for refractive errors and is connected through a low cost telemedicine solution to make specialized care available at the doorstep of the diseased.

Technology also helps in streamlining our work and enhancing operational efficiency. We use a robust Management Information System, which allows us to monitor operations, efficient account, track inventory, perform a real-time time-motion analysis of patients through the hospital to identify potential bottlenecks and also look at deployment of human resource the most critical asset in the healthcare ecosystem. This allows us to focus better on our core competency of delivering quality eye care.

Ongoing updation and training is also critical for our healthcare staff to provide appropriate care and treatment to our patients. Through videoconferencing solutions and using web cast technology, resource persons from remote locations can address our cadres.

Other areas where there is a potential to enhance safety and increase he knowledge base include

  • Clinical decision support
  • Computerized disease registries.
  • Electronic medical record systems (EMRs, EHRs, and PHRs).

How to increase penetration of medical technology to improve health outcomes in India?

While technology is available, it comes with a cost. A reduction in the import duty and other levies of these critical equipment could reduce the cost of procurement and also the fee paid by the patient.

It is essential that the use of appropriate technology for diagnosis and treatment is made a part of the mandated infrastructure at all teaching institutions and there is an oversight on the curriculum to ensure students have access to the same. This would allow them to use technology more confidently once they step out to practice.

Penetration of technology could be enhanced on the strength of the recently announced, Make in India Campaign. Today the focus is on frugal innovation with technology being developed for the geography and the condition, rather than a mere toned down version of imported technology. We have seen large multinationals like GE and Philips establish innovation centers in India and extremely relevant products from baby warmers to CT scans have been launched.

Hospitals, academia and corporates need to work together in creating better solutions for critical conditions. This would enhance the talent pool available to create and also maintain technology. It is not uncommon to find an expensive equipment languishing for want of spare of wherewithal to repair it across the developing world.

Students in medical colleges should be encouraged to work towards innovations. Sensitization towards intellectual property at the early stages may foster a mindset for innovation and could also incentivize them to look beyond what they are taught.

What are the major challenges in accepting technology as the major tool in healthcare?

Across the world,health care systems are recognizing the need for innovation and advances.  Technologies in health can help facilitate new diagnostic as well as treatment options. Technology needs to complement the clinical skills and not replace them. There would still be a human at the end of the machine to utilize it appropriately.

One of the biggest barriers to technology is the availability of a tool customized for the country. The other major barrier remains the affordability of the same. For a comprehensive ophthalmic hospital to be established to cater to 150 patients a day in every specialty, an investment of approximately 6 crores of equipment would be needed.

Specific challenges remain in implementing solutions like the Electronic records, which offer many advantages over conventional paper-based methods of maintaining patient data. But their implementation into existing healthcare systems includes potential risks, including technological breakdowns, confidentiality breaches, identity theft and incompatibilities. Electronic health records require a standardized system and technology to be promoted. There is also a great inertia from the medical fraternity to adopt an alien method which increases chair time (more time to enter data into a system), but appears to reduce the patient interaction time.


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