A plethora of digital health solutions are launched every year in India. However, only a few of them get adopted by doctors. To overcome the bottlenecks and accelerate the adoption of digital healthcare innovation in the country, a top enterprise technology leader has adopted a novel approach.
In 2021, Dr Satish Prasad Rath, chief innovation and research officer at Aster DM Healthcare, made a lateral shift in his organization. He joined the company’s medical college (DM Medical College in Kerala) as the founder and head of its Department of Digital Health and set up an incubator with a focus on IoT and AI in healthcare. The incubator was established by Rath to bring doctors and entrepreneurs on the same platform.
Rath comes to the role with a strong technology background coupled with an in-depth understanding of healthcare. says Rath. While at Aster DM Healthcare, he was credited for implementing AI, IoT and telemedicine projects.
Aster DM Healthcare is a healthcare conglomerate with a network of 27 hospitals spread across seven countries. The hospital associated with DM Medical College has over 500 beds and more than 200 doctors across several specialties.
Throwing light on the digital adoption challenges, Rath says, “In the pharma industry doctors are involved only after a drug’s development and approvals are completed, which works just fine. Digital healthcare, however, is a different ball game. Doctors are not involved in the development of a solution right from the start. As a result, solutions are often rejected by doctors on the grounds of being redundant, expensive, or bulky.”
That’s why, he says, “for quick adoption of digital healthcare solutions, it’s important to involve doctors right from the beginning so that they are able to give continuous feedback related to the shape, weight, form factor, etc. of the solution.”
Bringing entrepreneurs and doctors together
“Till now, such incubators were set up by the government in IITs and other engineering colleges. This is the first such incubator, funded by the government’s Department of Biotechnology, to be set up in a medical college,” claims Rath.
A medical college, with a mandatory hospital attached with it, is an ideal location for innovation and its fast adoption, Rath says. “Corporate hospitals are caught up with day-to-day operations, leaving them with little time to come up with new innovations. Professors in medical colleges must work on theses and research as part of their key responsibility areas, which bodes well for an incubator,” he says.
“The other advantages of having an incubator in such a setup are that the healthcare entrepreneurs can get doctors as co-developers and that the hospital can become the first customer of the new solution,” Rath says. “Besides, the prototype can be tested on patients. In this way, the entire life cycle of the product is taken care of. This model is gradually being adopted worldwide.”
The healthcare incubator’s current projects
The incubator is currently focusing on a couple of projects.
The first one is around building interoperability among medical devices. The IT department of a hospital is against the procurement of medical devices (CT scan, X-ray, ECG, and so on) from different vendors even if leads to capex savings. This is because devices from different vendors don’t talk to each other or to the IT systems.
“By building an interoperability layer, we intend to make devices vendor-agnostic. With various devices seamlessly talking to each other, there will be an increase in efficiency,” Rath says.
The second project is aimed at speeding up the innovation process. Innovators invariably seek data for research; they want to run AI on data from X-ray, EMR, cancer, etc. However, patient data is confidential. Rath is working on combining data from various sources such as EMR, diagnostic, and genomic to make a repository, and trying to make patient data anonymous so it can’t be traced back to any individual.
He expects both the projects to finish by the end of 2022.
Healthcare CIO as a part of clinical innovation group
For technology leaders in the healthcare sector, Rath says, “the way forward is to work closely with clinicians. Old-school CIOs in traditional hospitals are feeling the heat. Their businesses are getting disrupted by digital startups. The future healthcare CIO will have to adopt the two D’s: domain knowledge [of healthcare] and digital skills, especially AI. Similarly, doctors will also have to step up and train on AI.”
Rath adds, “Going forward, hospitals will have to create a clinical innovation group consisting of CIO as the chief digital officer and a doctor as the clinical innovation officer if they are looking to facilitate impactful and innovative digital healthcare solutions and their fast adoption.”