Will there be big players controlling all our healthcare data?

Prof. Supten Sarbadhikari is a physician and health informatics educationist, regarded as a pioneer in spreading awareness of health informatics in India.

 Prof. Supten Sarbadhikari in interaction with Health   

Q1. Can technology like AI replace part or whole of the Doctor’s gut instincts?  

In one word, the answer is a resounding “No”. However, it can enhance the capabilities and empower the physicians in taking better decisions, based on evidence (where available) and high quality analytics (by processing more amount of clinical data than can be processed by humans, especially in such a short time).

What appears as “gut instincts” is actually heuristic reasoning, based on the experience and expertise of the physician. So, while older doctors may be less up to date theoretically or regarding the newer advances in medical science and technology, they can analyse problems much better.

AI or artificial intelligence techniques can do analytics much better than human beings but cannot substitute natural stupidity in using them. Moreover, the AI outputs will be only as good as the training inputs with available clinical information and knowledge.

Also, it is worth remembering that Brain plus Computer is better than either alone. It is not either or.

Q2. According to you what are the limitations of technology in delivering quality healthcare?

As I said above, any technology is as good as the end user. Natural stupidity will not be able to leverage the benefits of technology. In other words, it is the human or people factor that needs the greatest attention. Change management and capacity building – education and training for learning, unlearning and relearning will be the most decisive factor for success.

Processes or Workflows may have to be clinically transformed to make technology effective in healthcare delivery.

Technology or tools will go on advancing very rapidly. There will always be a need to balance cost and needs. Starting afresh is relatively easier. If systems are updated, a well thought out and robust migration planning has to be done in consultation with all the stakeholders.

Q3. According to you what will be the role of medical practitioners when and if technology like AI, AR & VR become mainstream?

Adopting effective technology for better health outcomes will be the key. For that, awareness, education and training, change management and clinical transformation will all be needed. That can happen in a top down way if the management dictates. The bottom up approach will be done by empowered and informed patients who will demand the best healthcare available, provided they can afford it.

Some of the clinicians will be in leadership positions to effect these changes, some others will champion such initiatives and then the majority will adopt.

Q4 .Will there be big players controlling all our healthcare data?

Healthcare data – if collected with adequate quality control, can lead to actionable information for policymaking and research that will improve health outcomes.

Access to healthcare information will be essential for that. However, there needs to be ample safeguards for protecting privacy, confidentiality and security of health information.

The National Health Policy of India – 3rd edition released in 2017, categorically states that the National Digital Health Authority will be set up to facilitate the development of a digital health ecosystem in India. The sooner it is set up the better so that the regulations and guidelines are in place before it is too late.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has set up the division of Digital Health in 2019. India is likely to play a major role there. So, it looks a promising time for digital health in India.

Q5. What are the technology inflection points?

Conventionally inflection points are known in retrospect (with hindsight). Nevertheless, the age of synthetic biology and personalized medicine has already arrived. Although it is yet to become mainstream, it is inevitable.

Similarly, AI and Robotics are going to capture a big space in healthcare delivery in near future.

The other notable happening will be shrinkage of huge tertiary care and superspecialty hospitals. Tele-homecare (THC), remote patient monitoring (RPM) will rise. These will fall under the domain of digital health that includes eHealth (electronic health records or EHRs), mHealth or mobile health and telehealth.


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