Health check on Tech: CK Birla Hospitals CIO Mitali Biswas on moving the needle towards innovation

Aug 25, 20236 mins
Data and Information SecurityDigital TransformationHealthcare Industry

“With the ratio of doctors to patients being 1 for every 2,000 patients, accessibility to healthcare is a potent challenge,” says Mitali Biswas of CK Birla Hospitals.

Image of Mitali Biswas, CIO, CK Birla Hospitals
Credit: Foundry

A robust healthcare sector is testament to a nation’s commitment to the well-being of its citizens. Over the past few years, the industry grappled with formidable challenges as the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on both human lives and the healthcare system.

However, some leaders embraced the challenge, skillfully navigating the tribulations of healthcare. They emerged triumphant, not only by providing vital assistance to patients who rely on the system, but also by moving the needle in technology and innovation.

Mitali Biswas, CIO of CK Birla Hospitals, was hired at the cusp of COVID and plunged headlong into the action. Instead of being daunted, Mitali leveraged the turbulence as a learning opportunity, ramping up to healthcare’s intricacies and bringing her leadership abilities and innovative thinking which enabled the hospital group to triumph over a deadly, unpredictable situation.

In this conversation with Foundry, Mitali discusses the accelerated importance of technology in healthcare, on enabling healthcare providers with data and why her team isn’t afraid of experimentation.

Can you tell me about your career path so far?

The late nineties were the IT era. Despite having studied optical electronics, I joined the bandwagon and entered the industry. Starting as a developer, I gradually shifted to team lead, to architect, and then to presale solutions.

The move to CK Birla hospitals was inadvertent as I was unversed with the healthcare industry. However, it worked in my favor; healthcare is going through an exciting time in terms of technology adoption, especially post COVID.

Healthcare is seeing a steep acceleration to the level of more technologically mature industries. The last 3 years, though challenging, helped me learn about the industry.

What challenges did you encounter when you joined CK Birla Hospitals at the cusp of COVID?

The demand from technology saw a sudden and unpredictable spike. The sentiment for all innovation was, ‘We need this yesterday.’ For instance, when the lockdown hit, teleconsulting platforms were expected to be up and running within a week.

Delivering technology at this speed was a herculean task. We also had to incorporate government regulations, such as the pricing for medicines and procedures, and be vigilant of COVID restrictions as dictated by the government.

Can you discuss the opportunities and challenges of data and analytics to transform the healthcare industry?

The opportunities are massive. Given our nation’s population, the ratio of doctors to patients is 1 for every 2,000 patients. Accessibility to healthcare is a potent challenge, especially in rural areas.

Healthcare providers collect data on everything from demographics to patients’ medical history. Data can aid doctors in diagnosis, reducing time spent with each patient and allowing them to treat more people. Furthermore, if the patient can be diagnosed before it becomes an emergency, we can decrease their hospital visits and help them recover sooner.

However, hospitals haven’t attained complete digitization. While operations have gone digital, clinical data like EMRs, operation theatre notes and nursing notes are still captured manually. This is largely due to bandwidth issues, as healthcare providers are always in firefighting mode and data management takes a backseat to saving a human life. The need is for a user-friendly system that captures all the data.

Initiatives like Ayushman Bharat or National Digital Health Mission are a step towards formal data collection. The government is pushing for healthcare ID for all hospitals and patients. Once implemented, all data under a patient’s ID will be accessible to them and their authorized physicians.

How significant are concerns around cybersecurity and data privacy for CK Birla hospitals and healthcare in general?

Nearly 50% of my budget is spent on cybersecurity. We monitor all our layers – from our endpoint devices to our network and cloud.

The biggest challenge is cultivating user awareness in healthcare. Regardless of technical solutions, unless doctors and nurses handle data sensitively and restrict it to work devices, the problem will not abate. Likewise, consumers, i.e., patients are also unaware of data privacy practices.

India has just passed the Digital Personalization Data Protection Act 2023, which will optimistically put a lot more emphasis on data privacy and increase awareness.

How are you leveraging generative AI to enhance your services, improve operational efficiency, or make life easier for your patients?

We first plan to implement generative AI on the IT side, creating chat bots or to monitor our cloud expenses. A lot of our clinicians are also using AI for research papers. Implementing it on the clinical side will take additional trials, because we cannot risk anything in that area.

How do your expectations of your resources change as technology evolves rapidly?

Everybody in technology needs to cultivate a learning mindset. I have survived in technology for more than 20 years because I have dedicated time to learning.

Learning doesn’t always mean completing courses or gaining certifications, but more about keeping an open mind, experimenting and hands-on experience. During performance evaluations, one of the criteria my team is measured on is their commitment to gaining new skills.

Is there a challenge when it comes to the upskilling of your ground level staff at the hospitals?

There is, because digital transformation in any organization is not just about the technology, but also the employees’ mindset. People’s reluctance to adopt a new system can be sidestepped by applying a top-down approach or gamifying the learning process.

When embarking on digital transformation, it works to take the staff along on the journey. Involve them during the creation and testing process, so they develop a sense of ownership for the solutioning systems. Management support is paramount for these initiatives, as doctors and nurses are strapped for time for these additional activities, so it needs to be a part of their KPIs to make this a success.

As a leader, what learnings are you imparting to your team and how do you lead your team through turbulent times?

To effectively lead your team, you have to assure them that it’s okay to fail. Only then will they venture into experimentation or make bold attempts to foster innovation, for they know that their leader has their back. Once you inspire this confidence in your team, they’re incredibly proactive and lead the tasks themselves. My mantra has always been that if it’s a failure, it’s my failure. But if it’s a success, it’s our success.