Technology - IT, BT, and what not? The IMPACT on Healthcare

Dr. Kumara Sanjaya, Lead Clinical Specialist and Product Manager at Philips Healthcare | Wednesday, 23 August 2017, 09:49 IST

As an insider in the field of healthcare, with an experience of over 20 years in the clinical domain as a medical profession­al, there is certainly one “revolution­ary” wind that is blowing hard which none can ignore. This is the wind of Technology – be it in any form – IT (Information Technology), BT (Bio­technology) or the more ubiquitous IOT (Internet of things). There bare­ly remains any domain in the living breathing world we exist in, that has not been touched/impacted by the windfall of technology coming our way in the last 3 to 4 decades. My aim here is to provide a short but sure introduction to the most significant contributions of technology in health­care. Being personally experienced, I do not intend to shroud my message with statistics, charts, graphs and probabilities. On the contrary, I want to share the human experience of how technology has impacted healthcare.

Probably the most important do­main in every human being’s life is “healthcare”. An impact on the health and well-being both on the level of the soma (body) and psyche (mind), surely affects one most profoundly. The profundity of the positive or neg­ative experiences on human beings is what makes healthcare an art as equally as it is a science. In fact, there is no other single example that one can conjure up where the profound­ness of the impact on any one’s life, makes healthcare a domain space that is all-together, most sought, liked, feared and sort of shrouded in mys­tery. Even the strongest human can be rendered as powerless and insecure as a new born baby when something strikes his/health condition – physical and mental. Given this I can confi­dently say that there is no human alive today who has not experienced the shock, pain, frustration when stricken with any disease, as also the immense feeling of relief, gratitude and pro­found joy, when the malady has been cured/controlled.

Revolution in Diagnostic Imaging

One greatest example that comes to the forefront of my mind is the rev­olution in diagnostic imaging which is 100 percent an outcome of tech­nological advancement impacting healthcare. What could not be seen from within the spaces under one’s skin, has been imaged and laid bare. Lesions that could never be detect­ed until they came to the size of a lump that could be felt by a physi­cian’s hand, can today be suspected, detected and assessed profoundly by imaging techniques such as CT (com­puted tomography), MRI (Magnetic resonance imaging), Digital X-ray, Ultrasound and nuclear isotope scans. Today’s medicine has sort of reached its diagnostic best when cancerous tumors that are barely forming as a group of a few hundred cells can not only be visualized, but can be assessed for their nature (benign versus ma­lignant). It is not wrong to say that almost everything that has advanced in healthcare has followed this revolu­tion that occurred since the 1960s in the field of diagnostic imaging, with CT and Ultrasound coming out as the herd leaders in technological terms. Thanks to them, today we know a lot more and with a lot more clarity, the various anatomies and physiological/ biochemical processes taking place deep inside the hideous skin surface.

Progress in the evolution of vid­eo technologies and 3D vision, have made robotic surgery possible and studies have unequivocally demon­strated that for certain intricate and long surgical procedures, robotic sur­gery produces far better positive re­sults on patient outcomes and quality of life. Cancer surgeries which were considered “heroic” on the part of the surgeon in the past needing incisions running the length and width of the abdominal wall, today have become fine-art works in terms of their pre­ciseness and intricateness. Patients not only recover faster, they do not lose bodily functions/abilities which were usual outcomes of past-time he­roic surgeries.

Super Expressway for Digital Communication

Today’s information technology and digital communication has opened up a super expressway for digital com­munication. Bandwidths of 250 Mbps which were a rare luxury just a few years ago, have now become common place in both personal consumer and business consumer spaces. Thanks to these, today there are “tele-ICU mon­itoring” solutions, which can enable “real-time” monitoring of ICU (inten­sive care unit) patients by experts who may not even be in the same country. Going by the seriousness of an ICU environment, it is well known in med­ical circles, that information assimila­tion and decision making has to be in the order of a few minutes/seconds. Anything later adversely impacts pa­tient survival and recovery. With that kind of a “real time need”, we are in a state in our own country, where hos­pitals located in small non-decrepit towns can now seek the profession­al services of qualified intensive care specialists who do not visit patient physically, but monitor, evaluate and make decisions through the reality of “tele-ICU programs”.

Genomic medicine, which was in it’s infancy a few years back, today has been given a shot in the arm, thanks to the great compute power available by technologies that have made cloud computing possible and reliable. Human genomes can be mapped and different genes causing cancers/ other inborn diseases can be identi­fied and assessed accurately. This can take medicine to the next revolution, which is going to be “personalized medicine” which is strongly “evi­dence-based”. In fact EBM (evidence based medicine) has given great in­sights into various diagnostic and therapeutic methodologies and what depended on the “skill of a single/few talented physicians” is now not con­sidered to be a great thing. Studies that are scientific, well designed and executed with proper design and co­hort controls, have come to show that there is value in “medical evidence” and the best form of evidence comes from clinical research and not from the personal files of experienced phy­sicians. Although, everyone will vary based on their personal ability and training, medical experts now have access to data and information which defines and makes possible evidence based best practices.

The cloud provides unthinkable compute and storage power. This has not only fuelled data science, but has launched data analytics and data science methodologies in a super or­bit where large amounts of heterog­enous data can be collected, collated and analyzed to build model based on time-honoured techniques of data science. Although data science or data analytics as the domain is called today has been around for quite a few de­cades now (coinciding with the avail­able of the first computers and digi­tal data), what cloud computing has done is launch this into a higher orbit with a tremendous energy which has the potential to throw insights into various aspects of diseases and med­ical practice that have not been done till now. Data science with the path forward holds great promise to make medicine safe and effective for the en­tire of humanity.

In healthcare, technology is here to stay. It can be all pervasive and all-encompassing. There is no escap­ing it. In fact, I sincerely believe it may be the path which would lead us to ‘smart healthcare’.