Indian hospitals must do cybersecurity audit yearly

Indian healthcare industry witnessed a paradigm shift in 2019-20, and ever since, there has been a surge in simple advancements like telemedicine and electronic medical records. With the help of AI-based technologies, healthcare providers can determine the best method for each patient with the aid of more effective, precise, and lasting interventions even remotely. 

India Business and Trade spoke with Mr. Neeraj Lal, Chief Operating Officer, Apollo Hospitals, Gujarat, as the latter explained how cloud-based services are increasing the confidence amongst the general population to go for regular check-ups. He also spoke vividly on the need for incorporating a more robust cybersecurity mechanism in the hospitals to avoid any data theft or breach of data security.

Neeraj Lal healthcare Apollo

Photo Source: Neeraj Lal

IBT: The healthcare sector in India is ever-evolving and has rapidly adopted the latest technology in terms of services and marketing. Please share your views on it. 

Neeraj Lal: Prior to COVID, many hospitals didn’t utilize software or digital technology for patient care improvement. However, the post-COVID scenario has brought significant changes. For example, at Apollo, about 30 to 35% of consultations now occur through video consultations. Previously, my consultations were limited to Gujarat-based patients while I was at Apollo, Ahmedabad. But now, I provide consultations to patients as far as the southern part of India, Dubai, and the Gulf nations. We’ve also introduced the concept of e-ICU, where we remotely monitor 100 beds in the ICU, collaborating with other ICUs that lack critical care specialists or super specialists.

We have embraced technology for both OPD and IPD services. COVID has reshaped our perception and utilization of healthcare services, giving rise to the concept of “flipped care.” On average, a person spends around 5 hours interacting with healthcare professionals, leaving the rest of the 8755 hours for patients to manage their health themselves. To address this, we’ve launched an AI-based pro health checkup program with Apollo.

I believe health checkups are crucial for everyone, and I recommend going for a checkup every year. I envision a future where hospitals are primarily dedicated to critical care ICUs and surgeries, with routine healthcare shifting towards home-based care.

IBT: How are you ensuring that all the information of the patient is safeguarded and that there is no data leak in any way?

Neeraj Lal: The recent cybersecurity attack at AIIMS, New Delhi, has highlighted the vulnerabilities in the Indian healthcare system. Currently, many hospitals still rely on manual-based data records, which can be challenging and increase the risk of data breaches.

At Apollo, we take cybersecurity seriously. We conduct a cybersecurity audit every year to assess and strengthen our systems’ security. While most hospitals in the country focus on financial and medical audits, we prioritize cybersecurity audits to ensure the safety of patient data.

To protect our systems, we have implemented an AI-based antivirus. Additionally, we are connected through the National Informatics Center, operating as a highly integrated closed system to enhance security measures.

Patients receive their reports online through the Apollo 24×7 app, which also allows them to schedule consultations and store their medical records securely. This digital transformation has streamlined the process for patients, eliminating the need for physical reports and providing easy access to their health data.

Despite advancements in technology, the cybersecurity threat exists not only in healthcare but across various industries. To safeguard patient data, we employ various antivirus software and ensure data is stored securely in the cloud. We firmly believe that regular cybersecurity audits are essential and recommend other hospitals adopt similar practices to protect sensitive information effectively. Currently, only a few hospitals in the country conduct such audits.

IBT: There are provisions such as e-ICU and e-consultation, owing to the boom in digitization. Has this led to a change in the patient inflow? 

Neeraj Lal: Yes, the shift to e-healthcare has been significant, with more than 50% of healthcare services conducted digitally. For instance, our daily OPD has increased from 500 patients to 800 to 900 patients, with a substantial portion opting for virtual consultations. Services like pharmacy, pathology, and radiology have also adapted to virtual platforms.

This surge in e-consultations has resulted in a notable increase in patient consultations. Our ICUs and OTs are optimized effectively. Pre-COVID, the healthcare industry didn’t heavily rely on software, but now there’s a significant rise in e-prescriptions and digitization of medical reports. We have transitioned from traditional healthcare to embracing the digital aspects.

Moreover, the pandemic has influenced marketing strategies, with reduced budgets and a greater focus on digital marketing for hospitals. With everything accessible on e-platforms, processes have been streamlined, and we can now track various metrics, including OP to IP consultations, prescriptions, and patient flows for radiology and pathology.

COVID-19 has accelerated the adoption of digital technologies in healthcare, fundamentally changing the way we provide services and engage with patients.

IBT: The healthcare industry is also promoting telesurgery claiming there are lesser chances of human error. However, people carry some inhibitions on the efficiency of robotic surgery. What are your views on it?

Neeraj Lal: We recently installed a robot at Apollo Hospital, Ahmedabad. It is essential to clarify that the robot does not perform the surgery on its own. Instead, it aids the doctor during the procedure. Human hands have limitations; they cannot move 360 degrees during surgery. However, the robot has four hands, providing enhanced dexterity to the surgeon. Therefore, we refer to it as robotic-assisted surgery, not robotic surgery.

Robotic-assisted surgery is a type of keyhole surgery, where the body is not exposed. The robot’s hand is inserted into the body, and the surgeon controls its movements to perform the surgery, such as stitching the incision. This approach minimizes infections since the body remains mostly closed. It also reduces blood loss and significantly shortens the hospital stay, typically from four days to one.

Previously, robotic-assisted surgery was primarily used for oncology and urology procedures, but now it is being employed in various specialities. As technology advances, robotic-assisted surgery is likely to become more prevalent, benefiting both hospitals and patients. Patients experience minimal antibiotic usage due to reduced exposure and faster healing compared to open or laparoscopic surgeries.

IBT: Technological advancement and integration of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning have become an integral part of most industries. Do you think it has changed the overall cost of medical consultation?

Neeraj Lal: Yes, the cost has indeed come down. With video consultations, patients no longer need to travel to the doctor or hospital, saving expenses on transportation. For instance, instead of spending Rs. 800 or Rs. 1,000 on a cab to visit the doctor, patients can now have a Rs. 600 video consultation from the comfort of their homes. They can share their reports and interact with the doctor virtually.

In the OPD, we can now track the number of prescriptions, conversions, and pending orders for procedures like X-rays. Home healthcare has also been implemented, wherein after one week of follow-up, the hospital delivers the required medications to the patient’s doorstep. This optimization has contributed to cost reduction in medical consultation.

There is no doubt that the integration of technology, including AI and ML, has positively impacted healthcare services, making consultations more convenient and cost-effective for patients.

IBT: How is the Indian healthcare industry catering to the needs of foreign nationals? Are more coming to India to Ahmedabad to get efficient healthcare services?

Neeraj Lal: The Indian healthcare industry, particularly in Ahmedabad, is catering to the needs of foreign nationals quite effectively. We are in close proximity to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Airport, which has significantly increased the number of patients coming from countries like Kenya and Tanzania. On average, we receive around 25 to 30 patients every month from these countries, and we perform approximately 35 to 40 surgeries for them each month.

Foreign nationals often come for OPD consultations and surgeries. However, after the surgery, they need to stay back for follow-up visits. The number of patients seeking healthcare services from India is steadily increasing, and we are witnessing a surge in patients from these regions availing of the excellent healthcare services offered here.


  1. Indeed this is great

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