VR & AR Can Be Useful In Treatment Of Mental Illnesses, Neurological Conditions: Gopikrishnan Konnanath

In an interaction with BW Healthcare World, Gopikrishnan Konnanath, Senior Vice President, Global Head, Engineering Services and Blockchain, Infosys speaks on connected medical devices, adoption of robotics to augment medical infrastructure, proliferation of wearable tech and its downsides, accessible and affordable remote care and healthcare technologies of the coming decade

As countries shift towards the new normal, healthcare providers are continuing their digital transformation journey with an aim to improve existing processes and adopt new practices in care delivery. Connected medical devices are proving to be an essential part of this transition in the healthcare industry. These medical devices offer remote care facilities enabling healthcare professionals to track their patient’s condition and administer medications without exposing themselves to potentially harmful environments. Big data and analytics can be leveraged to track patient behaviour, learn risk patterns and predict onset of unfavourable health conditions.

How connected medical devices enable an increase in connectivity and seamless data flow?

Connected medical devices promise healthcare providers, patients, payors, and all other stakeholders in the healthcare process, better access to data that will change the paradigm for clinical treatment. Development in computing power, connectivity technologies such as Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), 5G, Wi-Fi, and miniaturisation have led to several innovations in connected medical devices. These innovations allow healthcare professionals to better engage with patients, provide a more accurate diagnosis, reduce human errors, and provide insights for targeted therapy. The result is better clinical outcomes and lower healthcare costs besides engagement and empowerment of patients for superior clinical experiences. 

How is the adoption and usage of robotics augmenting the existing medical infrastructure? 

Hospitals are increasingly adopting robots to perform routine and critical procedures to reduce costs and enhance precision and safety. The earlier generation of robots lacked the ability to provide guidance. New-age robots can now influence the course of a surgery through improved synchronisation between preoperative planning with in-situ surgical reality, assisting surgeons in better decision-making. 

For example, in precise osteotomies (surgical cutting of a bone) imaging data from preoperative scans are imported to the robot’s surgical plan preventing the surgeon from making erroneous cuts. Clinics are also using robots to assist healthcare workers and improve patient care. Robots can minimise human contact in isolation wards by independently sanitising the rooms. Scientists in research laboratories can leverage robotics to automate manual tasks while they focus on core research activities. 

With the proliferation of wearable tech in the healthcare industry, what according to you best explains this success story and can you also enlist some downsides for the same? 

Medical wearables come in multiple clinical settings; however, most provide insights into only one or two biomarkers, for example, heart rate or physical activity. Some of us use Fitbit, Apple Watch, and Google Lens to check our sugar levels or pulse rates. These devices can monitor health parameters, but they do not empower us to make decisions about our health. 

Another hindrance to expanding wearable devices’ clinical value is the inability to tie multiple data sources together since disparate devices are managed and regulated differently, with no data aggregation system to consolidate them. Poorly designed products or wrong usage of wearables could result in imprecise and inconsistent measurements. Security is another concern where users could have their health data stolen. 

What do you think is the role of technology in enabling accessible and affordable remote care? 

With increasing costs and an ageing population, traditional disease management is shifting to affordable, personalised care. 

High costs of preventive care and diagnostics are one of the significant barriers to achieving equitable healthcare. Often, these are viewed as extraneous costs and not covered by health insurance. Technology can reduce the entry barrier by lowering diagnostic costs and making preventative care accessible to everyone. 

Technology can help monitor and influence patient behaviour in real-time to manage chronic conditions. It serves as an effective, low-cost solution to monitor high-risk patients without the need for expensive hospitalisation unless needed. Connected medical devices can improve drug and disease management and lower patient care costs through increased speed and accuracy of diagnostics and targeted treatments.  

What are the challenges in the adoption of connected medical devices in the healthcare industry?

A few key challenges which hinder adoption of connected medical devices include concerns around data security and privacy, data interoperability, regulatory issues, lack of patient trust and high cost. Connected devices present additional risks for data security and are highly vulnerable to targeted attacks and malware. Similarly, complying with various national and international standards and protocols around data usage and exchange can be extremely challenging. Interoperability of data requires open data standards to enable different stakeholders to share data in a secured manner which may act as a barrier.

Meeting multiple regulations such as HIPAA, GDPR, EU-MDR and new FDA regulations for cybersecurity in medical devices is important. Additionally, patients often do not trust connected devices and are hesitant to share their health data for fear of misuse. The initial high adoption costs of connected medical devices are often discouraging and tend to dissuade its use.

What are some new technologies that will take the centre stage in the healthcare industry in the next decade?

Technologies such as 5G, AI/ML, AR/ VR, 3D printing and Robotics are set to play a transformative role in redefining the future of the healthcare industry. Enhanced 5G technologies will provide high bandwidth connectivity to enable telemedicine and telesurgery. Similarly, AI/ML applied to diagnostic-to-therapeutic decision-making, including pharmaceutical efficacy and drug interaction prediction will enable targeted therapy and better clinical outcomes. Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality can be very useful in the diagnosis and treatment of mental illnesses and neurological conditions. Future surgeons and practising surgeons can leverage VR to develop improved surgical techniques. We can already see instances of Additive manufacturing (3D printing)  transforming dental implants, prostheses, hearing aid moulds, surgical guides and more. Robotics can also be used to provide surgeons with accurate tools for complex surgeries. It can make health care operations like the delivery of medical goods and services more efficient and less expensive.



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