Internet for Healthcare

Technology has the power to usher us into a disease free world. There is no doubt that healthcare in future would be led by technological progress and that our dependencies on humans would progressively decrease. What we have to solve for is the degree of ‘trust’ we typically have on humans (doctors).

Use of video calling as well as real time transmission of test reports can tremendously improve healthcare in rural and distant locations. This will save the time and the inconvenience of travelling to outstation locations over long distances to avail healthcare. However, simply a video conferencing mechanism has some glaring drawbacks. The one-to-one interaction between the doctor and the patient needs to be supplemented by real time transmission of data such as heart beat rate and temperature. This can be easily achieved using ‘Internet of Things’ method in which electronic heart rate monitors and thermometers are directly connected to the internet and are capable of transferring the data over the web.

Online video’s application is not merely limited to rural areas. Even in urban areas specialists are difficult to find and consultancy with a specialist doctor can be done via a video call. The application of this system extends to cases of communicable diseases where direct contact with patient is not advised or in cases where the patient suffers from ‘white coat syndrome’- extreme anxiety in the presence of a doctor.

There has been an explosive growth in online retail but we are yet to see a true ‘Amazon of health products’ as such. Part of the reason is that the control over prescription drugs and distribution to far off places, where this will be of maximum benefit, is difficult. However once these barriers are eliminated through digital prescriptions and an expansive distribution system, it will massively help those who do not have immediate access to all kinds of drugs. At the same time, a variety of drugs, prescription and otherwise, would be made available, increasing the number of options.

An indirect method of taking specialist healthcare far and wide is to use technology to transmit knowledge and skills. Live streams as well as documentary videos of surgeries and other procedures can be used by other doctors to learn these skills. Similarly, a social network of doctors could be set up where your local doctor could consult a senior specialist in a different city before proceeding to prescribe medicines or asking you to conduct additional tests. Moreover, certain common issues such as a common cold or a sudden fever can be having easy homemade cures and simple software or app with the adequate information stored in it can help. There is an old adage which says that prevention is better than cure. Much of the healthcare industry is today focussed on promoting a lifestyle involving regular exercise, which today comes in various forms ranging from Yoga to Zumba, and a balanced diet, instructions for which can be easily provided over the internet for those who cannot avail a trainer.

Ultimately like most other things, healthcare could also be someday fully automated using advanced AI-enabled software, which would be fully capable of making the right diagnosis based on your test results and recommending you a course to treat yourself. That will clear several obstacles that plague delivery of healthcare today and possibly make it accessible everywhere.

That said, the fact is that AI-enabled system is still conceptual. It will take several years of rigorous tests and careful programming before it can be put to use. But the technology we have today could be put to use to radically transform healthcare industry, eliminate distances and make affordable healthcare available to everyone.