Mar 10, 2023

Responsible implementation of technology holds the key in augmenting healthcare

Having witnessed the on-going technology-inspired revolution in the healthcare sector, we will still need to exercise discretion in ensuring that technology is implemented judiciously

Implants, stents, genome sequencing, non-invasive surgeries, transplants and prosthetics — the evolution in medical sciences over time has been stupendous to say the least. The proliferation of technology has provided an impetus to several elements of the end-to-end healthcare value chain — consultation, maintenance of health records, surgical and diagnostic procedures, large scale production of drugs, personal health monitoring, and many others.

These benefits are not limited to the healthcare infrastructure or providers alone. Today, we laypeople are experiencing first-hand advantages, such as early diagnoses, personalization, real time and remote patient monitoring, and greater focus in geriatric healthcare — all of which have led to better quality of patient care and flexibility for patients and medical staff. Several aspects of technology in different stages of research and commercial deployment, have enabled this evolution. Some of the key ones are:

  • AI, which has become omnipresent and transcends the complexities of several domains, has already made its mark in healthcare applications; for instance, in terms of analyzing large sets of data from health records, sensors, and images. Better correlation of test results, accurate predictions of health risks, and high quality scan reports and visualisations are resultant benefits that have come about in our everyday life.
  • The emergence of smart healthcare devices in the market is another evidence of application of AI, combined with advancements in hardware. Wearables, including several of their avatars such as hearables, smartwatches, eye wear, and skin patches, are touted to have great potential in addressing rising healthcare costs. These are at different stages of acceptance by the masses; while fitness trackers are prevalent, an innocuous earbud that can analyse our Electroencephalogram (EEG) signals, which in turn can help predict the occurrence of an epileptic attack, is not as common.
  • Cloud technologies and Big Data systems enable storing and processing of large scale healthcare data from several sources with speeds that we did not anticipate about 10 years back. This has helped scale up solutions in the aforementioned realms in a cost-effective manner.
  • Robotic surgeries, remote monitoring, and deployment of humanoids for first responder systems, powered by IoT and 5G, are in developmental and testing stages, and will likely become ubiquitous soon.
  • The applications of Virtual Reality (VR) in medicine, while still at their nascent stages, are also promising. Areas of relevance, particularly of high impact, include medical training, treatment of phobias, and other psychiatric conditions and physiotherapy.
  • Another such technology which will likely bolster healthcare, through its use cases in creating surgical tools, implants and prosthetics, is 3D printing.

The possibility of integration of some of these developments, leading to value-added services and augmented feature-rich products, has huge promise and potential. Technology will likely revolutionize traditional formats of almost all aspects of healthcare; for instance, in the near future, we could even hope to see an automated insurance processing system that kicks into action, when we check in for a medical procedure, saving us two dozen frantic phone calls to have the procedure “covered and approved” under insurance.

Thoughtful and responsible implementation of technology in key healthcare areas is critical

Having witnessed the on-going technology-inspired revolution in the healthcare sector, we will still need to exercise discretion in ensuring that technology is implemented judiciously. For instance, many may still not want to see a virtual doctor treating them and understandably so as well. Imagine fixing an appointment with your family physician and then ending up talking to a non-empathetic voice-enabled robot, built on top of a large language model, trained in the biomedical domain … perhaps, that will eventually end in not-so-desirable experience for most patients.

With connected devices all around us and the exodus of almost everything from the physical world to the cyber world, there is no doubt that concerns on data security, confidentiality, and ethical factors including accountability and transparency will also need to be addressed. Will our health records fall into the wrong hands? With bodies lodging sensors and actuators that can control heartbeats and trigger hormonal functions, how gullible would we be to security hacks? If a robot makes a mistake in diagnosis, who would take accountability? In the bargain is also the looming question of how our lives would change if healthcare comes to be dominated by machines and robots. Is the human touch in healthcare that easily fungible? Can machines, someday, become empathetic? … Well, one would hope not.

By and large, the marriage of technology and domain expertise has so far evolved with care and sensitivity, and it is important that it stays that way or becomes even better for us to continue reaping the advantages of technology-driven healthcare. As I delve deeper into the areas of concern, I could not help, but also reflect particularly on my own critical responsibilities as an educator. I feel a sense a pride that such programmes and pedagogy helps in enhancing the problem-solving ability with accountability, among the working professionals. As an educator, I’m totally convinced that for a brighter tomorrow, educational institutions around the globe too need to lay special emphasis on ethical, responsible, and fair manner of leveraging technology, especially in the healthcare sector.