Growing need for data analytics and robotics professionals in the healthcare sector
The healthcare industry has been evolving globally in terms of policies, processes and capabilities. In the last few decades, especially, we have witnessed laudatory improvement in quality, outcomes and value, delivered through technology-enabled and innovative healthcare solutions.
Notable headway has been made across health indicators, with an increase in life expectancy by 5.5 years (global average) between 2000 and 2016. Research estimates a further increase in life expectancy from 73 to 74.1 years between 2016 and 2021.
Talking about India, estimates from the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs indicate that the average life expectancy of Indians will improve by 5.4 years — from 68.8 years in 2015–20 to 74.2 years in 2045–50.
As a direct consequence of the shift towards an ageing population, coupled with other macroeconomic drivers including inflation, increasing focus on individual health, lifestyle, non-communicable diseases and chronic conditions, and an imbalance between the number of health workforce and patients, the global annual healthcare spending is projected to increase at a rate of 4.1% in 2017–2021, up from 1.3% in 2012–2016.
In India, the healthcare sector is pegged to advance at a CAGR of 22.87% during 2015–20, to reach USD 280 billion by 2020.
Also, traditional healthcare delivery in India will require an additional USD 245 billion by the year 2034. The silver lining is that this amount can be reduced by USD 90 billion through preventive care and by leveraging technology.
Therefore, in the face of considerable strain on our health system, it is imperative that we bring about disruptive changes by rethinking and redesigning processes and by utilizing new technology enabled capabilities in artificial intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT), analytics and automation.
This shift will help drive operational efficiencies, enhance quality of care, reduce medical errors, fraud, waste and abuse, and the overall cost of care.
Optimizing healthcare operations and reducing costs through AI, IoT, machine learning (ML) and data analytics
Healthcare AI, expected to grow at 39.4% CAGR worldwide by 2024, is one of the largest and most rapidly growing segments of Al, driven by in-novation in clinical research, robotics and big data analytics.
However, the industry needs to invest further in developing these capabilities because AI and ML have the potential to make healthcare both efficient and affordable.
Such innovative technologies have the potential to reduce the total cost of care in healthcare by bringing down both medical and administrative costs, through:
- Earlier identification of diseases — There is ongoing research to explore the cost-saving potential of AI-based systems and data analytics in early disease identification and early identification of potential pandemics.
The availability of a large amount of health data, along with cheap processing power and emerging and mature technologies like robotics, graph databases, data mining, machine learning and natural language processing, will enable building of real-time disease prediction models with very high accuracy. This will make the diagnosis, monitoring and treatment of patients more efficient and make healthcare available to populations around the world faster and at considerably reduced costs.
- Preventive wellness programs — The growing prevalence of AI and IoT in consumer health applications can help encourage healthier behavior in individuals, also providing healthcare professionals with real-time patients' health care status, allowing for early interventions, thereby reducing cost of care.
Equipped with comprehensive data that is structured using advanced algorithms, care providers can better understand the needs of their patients and consequently devise more personalized preventive wellness programs, which in turn will thwart diseases and accordingly save medical costs.
Advanced algorithms to identify fraud and waste in the system: Fraud is another significant drain on the cost and quality of healthcare. Preventing fraud requires detection of fraudulent behavior at an early stage. This can be achieved with advanced analytics and machine learning, wherein algorithms are built and constantly updated to not only identify and tag suspicious claims on the basis of known malpractices, but to uncover unknown patterns and adapt to fraudsters' increasingly sophisticated techniques.
- A 'digitally enabled' workforce — With digital services becoming more sophisticated, the vision is to have digital workers that can be programmed to assist in care delivery to improve cost, quality and outcomes.
Digitally enabled customer service will be a huge step forward in providing omni-channel and personalised service to patients. With digitised operations, many back-office functions can be automated to further drive cost efficiencies.
- Automation of transaction-based activities — The ability to automate simple as well as certain complex processes will help in reducing the cost of healthcare operations. In the health care systems of the future, time-consuming, standardized, repetitive and administrative tasks — finance, supply chain, human resources, revenue cycle, etc. — will be completely automated and qualified medical practitioners will be able to invest more time in critical, interactive and humane patient-care and medical research.
The role of Al and other new-age technologies in the shifting healthcare job market
In the healthcare sector, no technology can be a substitute for a smiling face and a human touch but can certainly help empower and augment medical professionals to deliver faster and more appropriate care.
With a clear focus on using new technologies to drive disruptive change in the way healthcare operates, there is and will continue to be a shift in the kind of roles that people will perform in this industry.
These technologies are expected to create new roles such as AI research scientists, language processing specialists, RPA developers and jobs that will involve human-AI collaboration, comprising of compressing human medical expertise and knowledge via ML into computerized advisory solutions.
The need of the hour is to create a digital worker — skilled in using and building these toolsets and also equipped with a thorough understanding of the healthcare domain — to be able to transform business processes and workflows.
Up-skilling of talent and role of academic institutions India arguably produces one of the largest numbers of engineers every year, however owing to dated curriculums they do not completely fulfill the requirements of new-age technology.
To match increasing demand, this talent pool needs to be quickly up-skilled in AI and robotics. Today, several organisations are partnering with academic institutions to introduce courses tailored as per the skill development required to perform the job at hand.
To conclude, the healthcare sector is particularly well-positioned to benefit from the revolutionary capabilities that the new AI and ML professionals will bring.
Expected outcomes include automated tasks, superior patient care, reduced system-wide costs and opportunities for doctors and researchers to leverage new capabilities to deliver their life's best work.
The above article appeared in ET CIO.