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How Artificial Intelligence is Disrupting Healthcare in India

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How Artificial Intelligence is Disrupting...

We are a country of a billion people. However, at one doctor for 1,681 patients, we have one of the lowest doctor-to-patient ratios in the world. In rural areas, the numbers are even more skewed. In the US and Japan, this ratio is around 1:400.

One way to improve this ratio is, of course, to produce more doctors. However, that is a slow process and not easy to scale. Besides, producing a large number of doctors, which is the norm of our education system, does not guarantee top-notch healthcare access for all.

Also, we Indians tend to delay consulting a doctor till the last minute. While the concept of preventive healthcare is new here, the cost and quality of primary healthcare are also an impediment.

Given these challenges, how can we ensure that every Indian citizen has access to quality healthcare at affordable rates?

Technology is the answer.

The advances in telemedicine have helped many to avail of healthcare services that they could otherwise not access. However, telemedicine treatment depends on the quality of services provided by the professional, which can often be inconsistent.

That’s where artificial intelligence comes in. By removing the human component, it standardises quality and promotes remote telemedicine simultaneously, thus enabling the scale layer. Below are some examples of how Indian startups are using technology to disrupt the healthcare space.

Computer vision
A large part of diagnostics hinges on the direct inspections by a physician or pathologist. Using computer vision, one can automate most of their routine work. For example, the folks at Bangalore-based SigTuple have created a unique artificial intelligence-based engine that can analyse blood slides and generate an entire pathology report without any assistance from a pathologist. Sounds magical, but it is true! Their solution can be provided to people in remote areas and at a fraction of the actual cost. Further, computer vision can produce more and more accurate data in a non-linear way, thanks to networked learning.

An interesting application of computer vision is very early-stage cancer screening. If used well, the technology can transform the entire field of preventive diagnostics in a massive way.

We live in the era of sensors. Even our smartphones have as many as nine sensors that can track our movements. The proliferation of smart watches and other personal fitness devices also provides additional data about us. Connected devices can push data on the cloud in real time, thus enabling us to deep dive into it. Artificial intelligence and machine learning can be used to identify early signs of ill health and can even predict diseases, so that patients can take preventive steps.

A startup called Ten3T operating in the medical wearables space has created a wireless patch that heart patients can place on their chests. The patch continuously monitors vitals, including medical-grade ECG, and transmits the data via the cloud, which clinicians can track in real time. In one instance, the patch helped doctors catch a rare heart condition that had gone undiagnosed for almost two years.

Natural language processing
Advances in natural language processing have enabled computers to converse with us and, that too, in our mother tongue. Imagine a scenario where one can chat with a doc-bot who can answer health-related queries in a vernacular language, thus providing the first level of healthcare. Especially in a country like India, where access to good quality care is rare, such technology can break new ground. It can also guide users to the appropriate specialist based on the initial diagnosis. This development is much closer to becoming reality than we think. There are companies working in this area that are ready to launch their services.

This is just a glimpse of the new technologies and solutions that artificial intelligence can bring to the table. If we are able to use a combination of man and machine intelligently, we can truly create a top-quality, consistent healthcare system, affordable and accessible to all in India and across the world. Like we leapfrogged from no connectivity to 4G, India with its broken processes and poor healthcare system can make the jump, thanks to early innovation and adoption of artificial intelligence in healthcare.

Disclaimer: pi Ventures has invested in SigTuple and ten3T

Manish Singhal is founding partner at pi Ventures, an early-stage venture fund focussed on product and tech companies in areas of artificial intelligence, machine intelligence and Internet of Things

On – 03 Apr, 2017 By Manish Singhal

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