How Digital is Transforming Hospitals in India

Dr. Vikram Venkateswaran, Founding Editor, Healthcare India Dr. Vikram Venkateswaran has over a decade of experience in strategic marketing, Influencer Marketing, Social Media Marketing, and Digital Marketing, and has advised multiple global corporates in the areas of healthcare, Life sciences and Technology.

Thirty-five-year-old homemaker Aditi Sinha (named changed) was having shortness of breath. Just minutes earlier, she had been jogging along in the park near Hauz Khas in South Delhi towards the market area, when she felt the wind was kicked out of lungs, throwing her off balance and to the ground. Bystanders had called an ambulance and as she was being hauled in, she felt something was wrong. She was feeling dizzy and was on the verge of passing out.

The doctor in the ambulance stabilized her and seemed to acknowledge that she had no sensation in the legs. Aditi doesn’t clearly remember what happened next, but that the entire procedure-of going from the ambulance to the hospital, being treated by doctors and finally being discharged - was rather smooth, unlike what she had heard of about patients involved in accident cases. It was almost as if the doctors knew who she was, what her ailments had been, and then administered the most appropriate treatment to which her body responded well. Aditi had just suffered an asthmatic attack. The famous Delhi smog along with Aditi's determination to burn off the Diwali Sweets that morning had taken her to the hospital.

For duty doctors at the new digital hospitals in India, this situation is routine. Their ambulances are fitted with ECG machines with inbuilt blood monitoring devices so that the doctor on board can save precious time by running the necessary tests and gauging patient medical history even before reaching the hospital. Data recorded on board the ambulance is transmitted via 4G technology to the hospitals which is then matched against the patient’s electronic medical records (should they be available) to identify what course of treatment would be suitable in the current situation. In Aditi’s case her medical records were available with the hospital, thereby enabling a course of treatment as soon as she got off the ambulance.

The backbone of this healthcare transformation is patient data. Hospitals across India have had access to patient data for a while. But what has changed is that they are now using this data to create programs for preventive care,improve care outcomes,reduce read missions,and improve patient engagement and satisfaction.

How Patient Data is Being Leveraged
For instance, Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital (Kokilaben Hospital)
uses patient data to understand the work load of various medical specialists employed, seasonal variations in in-patient admissions, and forecast local disease patterns. By tracking aspects such as length of stay, emergency admissions, and work flow at departments like radiology and pharmacy, the hospital’s management has been able to improve their patient engagement strategies as well as operations. The hospital also tracks metrics pertaining to re-admissions so as to create intervening preventive health programs and reduce readmissions.

“Technology is key to making healthcare patient centric. We are experimenting with several technologies to improve patient experience, hospital interactions and medical outcomes,” says Rajesh Batra, Chief Information Officer(CIO),Kokilaben Hospital.

Emerging Digital Platforms are Transforming Healthcare
In addition to patient data, Digital has helped us leverage some technologies from other industries. Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality (AR/VR) technology is already mainstream in industries like media,entertainment,sports, and gaming. This is another technology can help us improve care standards. For starters,it can really improve the basic foundational medical education. Anatomy dissection, for example,is a subject plagued by the lack of cadavers and absence of qualified teachers in India. VR enabled dissections are said to have improved the retention and knowledge of anatomy by more than 80 percent in a pilot conducted at Miami Children's hospital. Similar pilots in a major health chain in the U.S. found that residents undergoing AR/VR simulation for complex procedures like Tubal In tubation found a tremendous increase in the precision and efficiency of the residents. India is plagued by the lack of infrastructure. AR and VR give us the opportunity to turn these around and improve the quality and the efficiency of the procedures conducted. In India Hospitals like Sree Ramachandra in Chennai and Global Hospitals in Hyderabad have already run proof of concepts with live surgeries being streamed through AR/VR Headsets to students at the hospital. The feedback so far has been promising and we can see in the future more of these Digital technologies being implemented in Hospitals across India.

What we can learn from the experience of Hospitals in the U.S.
While the health exchange concept is in its nascence in India, the U.S. has had a similar platform for several years now. Centered around the -Triple Aim’- better care of individuals, better health for populations, and lower per capita costs - it strives to offer best practices in diagnosis and treatment to patients regardless of the clinician, provider organization or payer. “All of this relies on gathering accurate patient data, starting with patient history and adding quantitative and qualitative data throughout patient interactions,” says Jonathan Handler, President, Jonathan Handler Associates, a provider of IT solutions to the healthcare industry in the U.S.

The U.S. has seen many population health programs implemented on the basis of patient data collected by such healthcare systems. A population health management program in Nashua, New Hampshire, that focuses on care coordination for substance abuse patients has reduced overdose and fatalities by 34 percent while saving nearly $2 million in utilization costs. Similarly studies in Camden, New Jersey, showed how the same patients were readmitted to hospitals repeatedly for treatment indicating the need for intervention and preventive health mechanisms.

While Indian hospitals are stepping up their adoption of technology, the government is facilitating large scale health programs which rely on technology. The National Health Policy was just released a few months ago with focus on preventive care through usage of technology and methods like preventive screening. The government has also released standards for electronic medical records(EMR)and medical devices which will help hospitals adopt technology faster and in a streamlined manner. Further, most government insurance schemes are set to be cashless, giving the right incentive to care providers to adopt technology and leverage patient data to improve care. With the government, hospitals and health insurance providers investing in technology, the future is bright for a healthier India.