AI is transforming India’s healthcare future for better

The Indian healthcare industry is worth around US$ 372 billion and is experiencing a digital transformation, with data and Artificial Intelligence (AI) expected to contribute US$ 25-30 billion to India’s GDP by 2025. 

AI has the ability to completely change the way healthcare is provided by advancing diagnoses, better treatment outcomes, and altering how medical professionals provide care. As AI technologies develop, they are proving to be useful resources for saving lives, improving patient outcomes, and streamlining medical procedures.

AI in healthcare

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The Indian healthcare industry is a major contributor to the country’s economy in terms of both revenue and employment. The healthcare industry in India comprises hospitals, medical devices, clinical trials, outsourcing, telemedicine, medical tourism, health insurance, and medical equipment. This industry is estimated to be worth around US$ 372 billion, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 22% during 2016-22.

Currently, it is experiencing a digital transformation, with data and Artificial Intelligence (AI) poised to contribute US$ 25–30 billion to India’s GDP by 2025, according to Nasscom’s analysis. This offers bright potential for India’s healthcare ecosystem going forward.

Dinesh Gundu Rao, Hon’ble Minister of Health and Family Welfare, Government of Karnataka, said while addressing the 11th edition of Life Sciences and Healthcare Innovation Forum (LHIF), “Healthcare is one of the most important duties and responsibilities of the government. It is important to ensure good healthcare solutions and facilities for a better, faster, and quicker response to patient care for people living in remote places. Bangalore is the IT and tech hub for the country; therefore, Karnataka should lead the high-end usage of AI in healthcare. We will have a roadmap for the next five years towards building a better healthcare policy.”

Healthcare Challenges

The healthcare system in India continues to face a number of challenges, and the country still has a poor Healthcare Access and Quality (HAQ) index ranking. These challenges include:

  • Low doctor-patient ratio: India has a low doctor-patient ratio (1:1445), meaning that there are not enough doctors to meet the needs of the population. 
  • High cost of care: The cost of healthcare through the existing mix of public and private health institutions would be INR 1713 (US$ 38, 95% CI US$ 18–73) per person per annum in India. If branded drugs are used, this cost would be 24% higher. 
  • Healthcare infrastructure: Many hospitals and clinics are overcrowded and have poor infrastructure (0.55 beds per 1000 population). This can lead to delays in diagnosis and treatment and can also increase the risk of infection.
  • Information and integrated health services: Patients often have difficulty accessing accurate and up-to-date information about their health, and there is a lack of coordination between different healthcare providers. 
  • Low insurance penetration rate: The low insurance penetration rate (~20%) and inefficient manual claims in India mean that many people do not have health insurance. This can make it difficult for them to afford healthcare services, especially when they are sick or injured. 
  • Variation in SOPs, regulations, and skilled resources: There is a great deal of variation in SOPs (Standard Operating Procedure), regulations, and skilled resources in India, resulting in diagnostic errors. 
  • Lack of a stable pricing and policy environment: The Indian government frequently changes its policies on pricing and reimbursement for healthcare services. This can make it difficult for companies to plan their businesses and investments.

AI Transforming Healthcare in India

The use of AI in healthcare has enormous and revolutionary potential. AI technologies are transforming medicine and improving patient outcomes in a variety of ways, including enhancing diagnostics and enabling individualized therapies, expediting healthcare procedures, and revolutionizing drug discovery.

In India, delivering quality services in a diverse market at scale and at an affordable price is immensely complex, especially with the large underserved population, rising disease burden and variation in the quality of care across different public and private players.

AI has the potential to address the above challenges and cater to Indian healthcare industry needs. From diagnosis and treatment to patient engagement and care coordination. Therefore, it is critical for healthcare organizations to be aware of the AI opportunities across the healthcare value chain to be able to scale the benefits, having a far-reaching impact.

According to another report on digital enterprise by Nasscom, Healthcare and life sciences organizations spent the most on digital talent in 2022, with nearly 22% of these companies having 15% or more of their workforce in digital roles. Preventive healthcare, patient analytics, telehealth, remote diagnostics, and other digital solutions have driven talent demand.

AI role in the Healthcare

A technology-enabled healthcare ecosystem as the foundation will undoubtedly benefit India by addressing several current challenges. Here are a few India focused AI solutions:

  • Automate administration: AI can automate administrative tasks in healthcare such as appointment scheduling, managing electronic health records (EHRs), and processing billing and insurance claims. This automation reduces the administrative workload, increases efficiency, and reduces errors.
  • Proactive care management: AI can support a shift towards proactive and long-term care management by analyzing patient data and identifying patterns that can lead to better care outcomes.
  • Improved diagnosis: It has the potential to enhance diagnostic accuracy and speed by analyzing vast amounts of patient data, including medical images, lab results, and patient histories. AI-powered diagnostic tools can assist in areas such as radiology, pathology, and dermatology, leading to improved patient outcomes.
  • Drug development: AI can speed up the drug discovery process by analyzing vast amounts of biomedical data. This  enables researchers to expedite the identification of promising compounds, potentially reducing the time and cost associated with bringing new drugs to market.
  • Predicting risk: AI can analyze patient data and identify risk factors associated with various diseases and conditions. By leveraging predictive analytics and machine learning algorithms, AI systems can assess a patient’s risk of developing certain conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, or infections. This information can aid healthcare providers in implementing preventive measures, personalized treatment plans, and early interventions, potentially leading to improved patient outcomes and cost savings.
  • Telemedicine: Using AI-based virtual assistants, video diagnostics and medical image analysis, remote care can be provided. Thus, AI will help in providing the better customer experiences and quick response to patient queries.

The Way Forward

AI has the ability to completely change the way healthcare is provided by advancing diagnoses, better treatment outcomes, and altering how medical professionals now provide care. As AI technologies develop, they are proving to be useful resources for saving lives, enhancing patient outcomes, and streamlining medical procedures.

AI-led transformation of healthcare systems in India has the potential of increasing access, reducing cost and improving quality, but strong collaboration between the key stakeholders of the Healthcare AI ecosystem is necessary to be able to realize their full potential.

However, it is crucial to remember that AI is not intended to take the position of healthcare personnel. Instead, technology acts as a strong instrument to improve their abilities, offer information, and help them make decisions. To ensure ethical use, data privacy, and patient safety, the successful integration of AI in healthcare is needed, along with cooperation between healthcare providers, technology developers, and regulatory organizations.

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