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The constantly evolving field of medical technology

COVID-19 pandemic has not spared anyone in the last 18 months, and no industry has remained untouched from this global public-health emergency. Healthcare systems in every country were shaken to their foundation and medical professionals were pushed beyond limits to manage the morbidity and mortality arising from the deadly virus.

The biggest challenge was patients being homebound for months at a stretch. Face-to-face interaction between patients and doctors was not possible as people were unwilling to visit hospitals or diagnostic centers due to fear of the contagion. Not enough doctors were available in various specialties in the frontline. All aspects of treatment, from diagnostics to medical advice to testing to medicines, were delayed, leading to serious health repercussions for patients.

COVID-19 put the MedTech industry in limelight with huge demand for diagnostic tests, personal protective equipment (PPE), ventilators, and other critical medical devices like the pulse oximeter. There were critical shortages of live-saving equipment and there was a strong demand for quick and reliable diagnosis of various ailments. This forced MedTech leaders to look for creative solutions to meet the challenge.

In the midst of the ongoing public-health emergency, NURA, a collaboration between Fujifilm Healthcare and Dr Kutty’s Healthcare, opened its first-ever diagnostic center in Bengaluru, equipped with high-end, state-of-the-art machines. It instantly brought to patients the best of artificial intelligence (AI)-assisted imaging and expertise in diagnostics and healthcare, vastly improving the screening experience.

With increasing numbers of samples being received at diagnostic labs, a drastic increase in workload of pathologists and the use of legacy diagnostic tools with high chances of error and misdiagnosis, AI-assisted diagnostics has not come a moment too soon to revolutionize the way patient tests have been interpreted and processed so far.

AI technology makes the screening process safer by allowing us to use ultra-low doses of radiation. Sharper images have previously been possible only with larger doses. AI processes the low-dose scan and compares it to similar scans in the vast library of imaging data from around the world. This enables us to sharpen the low-dose image and identify health problems at very early stages that would be missed out by the naked eye. AI has dramatically improved the diagnostic ability of labs, that can now diagnose even the smallest lesion, using Ai-assisted tools. AI makes interpretation of test results much easier and accurate for doctors.

With rapidly evolving technology, healthcare over the coming years will increasingly be delivered through a digital interface. Telemedicine and remote diagnostics, though existing for several years now, got a strong push during the pandemic. Various digital platforms now exist where patients from any part of India can consult doctors remotely without being physically present. This field will continue to grow in future as its utility is not restricted merely to the pandemic times, but also extends to the vast hinterland beyond the cities, which has always faced the challenge of poor healthcare access.

Technology is allowing designing of better diagnostic equipment and imaging capability. The future will also see the scanning process becoming much more comfortable and convenient for people, with much less pain and waiting time. For example, traditional mammography is quite a painful experience for women, as the breasts are squeezed between two plates to get a proper image. However, using flexible plate technology, we have managed to make the process much less painful. The process of testing itself is also speeding up. With advancements as these, people are now much less hesitant to visit diagnostic labs.

Telehealth, increasing accuracy of diagnostic tests, AI, and increasing comfort factor are also solving the problem of access by making diagnostic devices portable and lighter. For example, lightweight portable X-ray machines that are easy to carry and deploy anywhere are used. MRI machines now come in open format, unlike the earlier ones which looked like enclosed containers. Today, we can position testing equipment right on the bedside of patients and conduct the test.

With all these factors, diagnostics, as we know it, will funda­mentally change over the next 15 years. It will offer a much better user experience in terms of testing, convenience, cost, and accuracy. This will encourage more and more people to get themselves screened, helping improve the healthcare parameters of the society, and reducing the incidence of morbidity and mortality, associated with various health conditions and lifestyle diseases.