India Is An Important Market For Innovation & Healthcare: Sashi Sreedharan

In an exclusive interaction with BW Healthcare World, Sashi Sreedharan, Managing Director, Microsoft India, speaks on the advancement of AI in Healthcare, the privacy and protection of data of a patient, Microsoft’s ventures in AI with healthcare organisations and the future of AI in coming years

How much has the use of AI increased in healthcare in the past few years in India and around the world?  

Accelerated technology adoption is transforming the healthcare industry. According to IDC, organizations are forecasted to spend $6.8T on digital transformation by 2023, and the healthcare industry is expected to spend more than $256 billion on IT. 

The healthcare sector has started to benefit from the application of digital technology, particularly AI, in multiple domains – from drug discovery to aiding healthcare practitioners in their judgement to improving productivity in diagnosis and patient treatment. When healthcare providers have access to better data, they can make better decisions. 

Assimilating AI and machine learning into the healthcare ecosystem allows for a variety of benefits, such as automating administrative tasks, easing workflows, and analyzing large data sets to deliver better healthcare faster, and at a lower cost. To cite just one example, AI-assisted health bots can analyze patient symptoms with unprecedented speed and precision, harnessing and clarifying data across towns, cities and even continents, making it possible for the medical staff to provide best possible care to patients.

What are some ways in which Microsoft has collaborated with other healthcare organisations to deliver AI based solutions in India?

India is an important market for innovation and healthcare. There is an opportunity here in India, that’s unique in the world, to leap ahead by designing systems for the service of people to enable better reach for healthcare in rural parts of India and to bring the powers of cloud and AI to the broader world. During the pandemic, we worked closely with several governments and public health authorities to enable citizen services with AI. The government of India's Saathi chatbot and Punjab government’s COVA app that helped citizens with critical COVID care information are powered by Azure AI. 

Apollo Hospitals is one of India’s largest private healthcare companies in India. Apollo Hospitals partnered with Microsoft’s AI Network for Healthcare to develop an India-specific heart risk score and better predict cardiac diseases for general population with the help of Apollo’s database and expertise in the field, and Microsoft’s cloud and AI tools. Apollo’s 24x7 virtual healthcare platform uses Azure AI to offer last-mile healthcare service delivery across India. The platform is enhancing patient engagement significantly and providing intelligent health insights for better patient outcomes.  

There is a whole range of areas that Microsoft is working on, and many of these are global programs as we can leverage a lot of work across geographies and learn from each other. One of them is the AI for Health initiative, a five-year commitment to work with non-profits, researchers and educational institutions on healthcare issues, especially on the COVID-19. Many of the open data initiatives have come from this, like making COVID related literature available in a searchable method. 

With AI based solutions, comes a huge collection of data, how are the stakeholders in the sector making sure that the patient's data is protected? 

AI and data can add up to $500 billion to India’s GDP by 2025, according to estimates by software body Nasscom. At Microsoft, we are focused on trust and security, helping to protect patients’ most valuable health information and supporting our customers’ compliance requirements. For instance, our Azure Health Data Services is a suite of purpose-built technologies for protected health information (PHI) in the cloud. It's built on the global open standards Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR)® and Digital Imaging Communications in Medicine (DICOM). It ensures data privacy within compliance boundaries, de-identifies data for secondary use, and generates insights with analytics and AI tools. The solution has been designed for protected health information (PHI), meeting all regional compliance requirements including HIPAA, GDPR, and CCPA. 

 Are there any key challenges for AI advancements and in its penetration in Indian Healthcare? 

Unstructured data sets, interoperability issues, lack of open sets of medical data, inadequate analytics solutions which could work with big data, limited funds, lack of manpower skilled in AI, regulatory limitations, inadequate framework, and issues related to data protection are some of the key challenges for AI-driven healthcare. However, India continues to be a critical testing ground for healthcare and innovation. India has a well-developed infrastructure and superior technical foundation. At the same time, the country is undergoing significant transformations, and as a result, there is an opportunity to build a cloud-based, AI-powered healthcare system from the ground up. 

There is a unique potential in India to jump ahead by developing systems for the benefit of people, enabling greater access to healthcare in rural areas of India and bringing the power of cloud and AI to the rest of the world. 

 What is the future of AI in Healthcare? 

Today, the potential exists for a whole new level of collaboration among medical professionals, researchers, data analysts, and technology companies. The entire ecosystem can connect and work seamlessly leading to more efficient healthcare ecosystems and better care. Through this period of rapid digital technology adoption, there has also been a swift uptick in the use of cloud, AI and machine learning. From enabling information sharing and analysis without sacrificing data privacy, to ensuring patients with the most urgent needs are given the quickest response, these technologies have revolutionized the COVID-19 healthcare response and will remain critical well beyond the pandemic. 


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