Hospitals bet on technology for post-Covid boost

Hospital chains are going beyond offering online consultations to convince people to use their services
Last Updated 30 March 2022, 17:26 IST

Covid-19 made many people put their non-essential healthcare needs on hold and chains from Manipal to Aster are trying to change this, now that the worst of the pandemic is behind us.

From using Artificial Intelligence to monitor patients remotely to launching apps which facilitate the home collection of blood and other samples, hospital chains are going beyond offering online consultations to convince people to use their services.

The aim is to meet the patients on their terms, and marry healthcare with technology for convenience and cost-effectiveness. Instead of making patients come to their premises for check-ups and follow-up visits, hospital chains are taking healthcare to people's homes.

"Health apps, wearables, artificial learning and machine learning are transforming an individual's capability of self-monitoring and instant assessment. These can be effectively combined with an expert opinion online for judicious and customised health management," Kotak Securities analyst Purvi Shah told DH.

A recent Deloitte survey showed a lot of potential for growth in post-operative services at patient homes too as respondents preferred that option due to convenience, lower costs and lesser risk of catching infection.

"We want to focus on remote-monitoring of our patients. Our pilot project with Fitbit wearables has shown that the outcomes have been good. It means such monitoring can be done effectively and the patient can come to the hospital only if there is a major distress signal," Dilip Jose, the CEO and MD of Manipal Hospitals, told DH.

Manipal is also aiming to use artificial intelligence to monitor patients and predict outcomes. "AI will help us capture data and tell us if there's a pattern in patients who come with similar complaints. We can, based on that, suggest treatment," Jose said.

Manipal Hospitals saw teleconsultations jump to 20% during the pandemic, versus 1% in the era before Covid-19. At present, teleconsultations constitute about 5% and Jose expects them to rise.

44% of the people who participated in the Deloitte survey used telemedicine either during or pre-lockdown and 73% of them said they were now more comfortable and willing to use telemedicine facilities for doctor consultations. They said they were comfortable with virtual consultations even to tackle mental health issues, gastric issues, nutrition and pain management.

Aster DM Healthcare too plans to broaden its offering in the coming few months.

"By the second quarter of the coming financial year, we will come with an application that will provide a home collection of samples so that we can go to the patient instead of the patient having to come to us," Azad Moopen, the chairman of Aster DM Healthcare, told DH.

Aster will push for more online consultations in the future.

"We would like to in fact promote more online consultation so that more time can be spent on new patients or patients requiring inpatient admission', '' Moopen told DH.

These initiatives are in sync with the changes in patient expectations since the pandemic began.

The Deloitte survey showed that more than 90% of respondents still felt scared of visiting a hospital and over 50% of them were concerned about health management post-lockdown.

More than 70% said they would prefer visiting hospitals that did not treat Covid-19 patients, while 45% were willing to do so only if such patients were treated in separate buildings.

While both the hospital chains want to tap technology, Jose said Manipal would do it through start-ups and technology companies. Aster plans to get into wearables on its own.

Kotak analyst Purvi Shah said the digital transformation would help hospitals maintain patient data and cater to patient needs at lower costs. While hospitals were moving in that direction, efforts were still fragmented and piecemeal, she added.

Digitisation of patient records could become a game-changer for patient management and also long-term data management, research and health planning, Shah said.

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(Published 30 March 2022, 17:26 IST)

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