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The future of healthcare in a post-COVID world

The world is now acclimatizing itself to the functioning of the new normal. Healthcare rose to the COVID challenge with both public and private hospitals, nursing homes, and doctors doing their best to ensure that the fight against the pandemic continues with patients receiving the best of treatment amidst evolving treatment guidelines.

However, a set of unforeseen medical challenges, presently lurking in the shadow of the pandemic may arise as restrictions on travel and movement are being lifted. Now, it is time to look at the future of healthcare, a future in the post-pandemic world.

There is no doubt that healthcare in the future will find a benchmark in our response to the COVID pandemic. The first months saw unprecedented disruption that required government and healthcare industry to come up with alternative ways of delivering care for new as well as existing patients while adapting to the new environment. The fast-tracking of approvals for medicines both new and repurposed for COVID, the rapid progress in clinical trials for vaccines for COVID compressing the approval timeline to a year from what used to take decades, has challenged the entire ecosystem.

COVID has resulted in bringing about a rapid change in perceptions about the use of digital technologies in healthcare delivery and also accelerated their adoption. The restrictions during the lockdown led to difficulty for patients in physically accessing hospitals.

It was here that technology came to the rescue with telemedicine and online platforms providing an avenue for patients to stay in touch with their healthcare providers. The government also responded quickly with telemedicine practice guidelines prescribing norms, rules, and guidelines.

A Forrester report in April this year on the COVID effect on healthcare predicted that just in the US, virtual care visits would soar to more than 1 billion this year, including 900 million visits related to COVID-19. A similar upward trend is also visible in India.

At Nanavati Super Speciality Hospital, we were among the first to take advantage of the synergy between medical and telecommunication technology through sustainable and scalable telemedicine facilities that enable patients to connect with the doctors in real-time through audio/video technology.

Patients can diagnose and submit their health data such as BP, blood test, X-ray etc. online to the doctor sitting miles away. Doctor and patient can then be connected real-time through audio-video. This technology can also allow doctors to use a digital stethoscope to listen to the heart, lungs similar to a physical examination and subsequently prescribe relevant medicines.

Going forward, telemedi-cine will continue to make an impact on how healthcare is delivered. While there will be aspects of healthcare that require the patient to be physically present in front of the doctor, there is no doubt that telemedicine technology will enable healthcare providers to focus on these patients while continuing to provide continuity of care to patients who do not require to visit the hospital. In this way, telemedicine will help to balance the supply and demand enabling healthcare providers to virtually deploy doctors even to the remotest corner of the country.

AI (Artificial Intelligence), ML (Machine Learning), and Big Data are three other factors affecting healthcare delivery in future. The amount of data on COVID that has been generated in the past months is phenomenal. While information and learnings are being shared, it is only with AI that the amount of data and its complexity can be unraveled.

AI-based technologies have the potential to transform not just the processes but many aspects of patient care. In radiology, AI-based software is increasing a radiologist’s efficiency by using algorithms to spot certain common patterns in X-rays, allowing the radiologist to use his skills and experience for diagnosing more complex cases.

An example is how AI enables reviews of mammograms 30 times faster with 99 percent accuracy thus reducing the need for unnecessary biopsies, which is again a major benefit in these COVID times. AI and ML are also being used to predict what treatment protocols are likely to succeed based on the patient attributes and the recommended treatment.

Other areas where AI is making the impossible possible is in the use of robotics in medicine. Since the turn of the century, surgical robots have been allowing surgeons to see into nooks and crannies of the human body and be precise in approach through minimally invasive incisions, making fine stitches to wounds and more.

Robotic surgery has many benefits over open surgery and even conventional laparoscopy. The better-known advantages of minimally invasive robotic surgery include reduced postoperative pain and recovery time, decreased complications and infection rates with improved clinical outcomes for patients.

COVID has brought to the fore how the advantages of robotic surgery will also help to keep patients outside of the healthcare system and emergency rooms. Robotic surgery will enable healthcare institutions to keep COVID-19-negative individuals away from high-risk areas.

In emergencies or in case testing is not available, robotic surgery is an efficient method to perform surgery with the lowest risk to patients, doctors, nurses and other personnel due to a reduced risk of transmission during surgery while allowing patients to return home without any delay.

The future will also see an innovation explosion with an increased demand for AI-driven technology with clinical applications as well as those that promote proactive behavior for healthy lifestyles in individuals.

We are seeing a proliferation of intelligent AI-powered wearables and medical devices AI that allows doctors to track and monitor individuals with signs of early-stage heart disease, predict potentially life-threatening episodes early, thus improving the chances of a better clinical outcome.

Healthcare in a post-COVID world will not be the same, and at Nanavati Super Speciality Hospital, we are at the forefront with resources in place to improve healthcare access and of course, any possible future crisis!

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