On December 22, 2022, Apollo Hospitals, in partnership with telecom services provider Bharti Airtel, conducted India’s first 5G-driven, AI-guided colonoscopy trials. As per current protocol, colon cancer is detected through a manual colonoscopy procedure and requires great attention and time for accurate detection. Not only is the procedure 30-40 minutes long, it is discomforting for patients, and also for doctors and nurses. The trials showed the new tech in good light—the procedure was done in greatly reduced time. There’s more to come. “Google Cloud’s analytical systems will help Apollo manage data of over 14 million patients and analyse their health patterns to serve them better,” says Bikram Singh Bedi, Managing Director of Google Cloud India. “Through this, doctors will be able to leverage data-driven clinical insights and this will help build more trust between doctors and their patients.”
The healthcare business has seen significant impact from digital technologies in general, and from AI in particular. “We use AI for almost all operations of our chain of hospitals, and it has indeed transformed the business in a big way in the past few years,” says Dr Ashutosh Raghuvanshi, Managing Director and CEO of Fortis Healthcare. Some of the things that AI has done for Fortis include management of electronic health records (EHRs), improving the efficiency of patient operational flow, and hospital data management.
For pharmaceutical companies, the impact has been bigger. Sun Pharma has adopted a range of technologies, including AI and ML, to improve drug discovery, reduce time-to-market, and optimise clinical trials. Similarly, Cipla has invested heavily in AI and cloud computing to improve its supply chain management and product development. Further, Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories has adopted AI and ML to improve its drug discovery and clinical trial processes.
“India has emerged as the world’s largest generic drug supplier by volume, contributing 20 per cent of the total pharmaceutical exports. It satisfies 50 per cent of the global demand for vaccines post-pandemic. The phenomenal growth in the country’s pharmaceuticals industry is backed by technological innovation and investments in newer operation mechanisms, thus providing a huge opportunity for global tech companies to partner and collaborate with the pharma sector,” says Debashish Roy, Director and Head-Digital Innovation at global pharma giant Pfizer.
The opportunity is big. A PwC report released this March says that AI expenditure in India is expected to reach $11.78 billion by the end of 2025, and by 2035, AI expenditure is expected to contribute $1 trillion to the Indian economy.
“Standardisation and open access to healthcare data, as well as the usage of AI on that data, have increased by leaps and bounds,” says Ram Deshpande, Partner-Technology Consulting at EY India. “Avenues for AI adoption today range from personalised self-assisted care to state-led health initiatives, aided by cutting-edge healthcare technologies ranging from remote diagnostics to robotic surgery and preventive care.” EY recently deployed an AI/ML solution for a state government that would help it plan its resources efficiently in situations like the Covid-19 pandemic, including forecasting, demand estimation, day-level plan for the next 90 days, and scenario analysis.
Yet, there are miles to go. According to EY, 47 per cent of Indian healthcare organisations are still studying AI for applicability, plausible use cases through proof of concept (PoC), and a clearly explainable RoI. “This implies a significant need for AI advocacy and RoI demonstration in a data-intensive sector that can profit enormously from a transition from mostly curative to AI-led preventive healthcare methods,” says Deshpande.
On the other hand, the PwC report suggests that one of the main reasons for not adopting AI/ML is the perception that automation will reduce job opportunities and result in job losses. India has a population of 1.4 billion and 522 million people are estimated to be employed all over the country. So, the perception of diminishing job opportunities is hindering the adoption of AI in India.
“It is a common assumption that technological advancement will threaten job opportunities and human efforts will be replaced by automation. However, the growing demand for digital healthcare solutions to make quality healthcare available to the masses has created opportunities in a variety of fields in India,” says Ganesh Lakshminarayanan, CEO at Airtel Enterprise Business.
With information technology enabling efficient management of the healthcare industry in areas such as statistical documentation, access to medical databases, and easier access to research on upcoming medical trends, Lakshminarayanan says employment opportunities have grown in tandem. “With the roll-out of 5G technologies, a 20 per cent increase in hiring is anticipated for positions such as networking engineers, experts in AI and ML, user experience designers, cloud computing experts, cybersecurity specialists, and experts in data science and data analytics,” he says.
Nothing artificial about this.