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How AsterDM is preparing for accelerating on the Digital Healthcare Highway

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From comprehensive mobile applications empowering patients and doctors to the integration of cloud technology and artificial intelligence, Sreeni Venugopal, CIO and CISO, Aster DM is undertaking a series of digital initiatives, as he prepares his company for growing quickly and efficiently in a rapidly evolving and highly competitive marketplace.

Request you to share some of the key digital initiatives?

From a patient perspective, we have started an initiative to bring in a very comprehensive mobile application for our patient community as well as a doctor community. Today, the data that we have about our patients are mostly restricted to our own hospital information systems, it’s consumed by our doctors for providing care. But from a patient standpoint, when they come into the hospital, or when they are at home, and they want to get more details about their own health parameters and conditions, they probably don’t have access to it. So with the mobile app, we want to make sure that patients have the ability to access and understand their health parameters. It also allows them to consume the various services the hospital offers, including teleconsultations, appointment booking, and wellness recommendations based on their health parameters.

We will be implementing this project in multiple phases, with the initial phase scheduled to begin at the start of the upcoming year. The plan revolves around these phases, each building upon the previous one. In the first version of the app, we will introduce fundamental features.

Subsequently, we will continue enhancing the app to cater to a broader range of functionalities, particularly focused on serving the medical community’s needs. Doctors and clinicians currently rely on desktops and laptops in their daily work, often tethered to the hospital’s information system. With this new app, our goal is to provide them with the capability to access patient parameters, review conditions, prescribe medications, and make necessary adjustments to treatments all within the app, directly at the patient’s bedside. This shift promises to revolutionize patient care.

Further, our initiative aligns with global best practices, specifically the concept of “closed administration of medication.” This approach streamlines the entire medication process. From ordering medicines through the system, delivering them to the nursing station, and administering them to the patient, the app plays a pivotal role in ensuring accuracy and reducing medication errors—a critical concern within the medical industry. This development represents a significant leap forward for healthcare providers. In summary, this initiative marks a major digital transformation currently underway in hospitals, aiming to streamline processes and enhance patient care while adhering to the highest standards in medical practice.

How do you see the role of AI in healthcare and in your company?

When considering the role of AI in our institution, we have established partnerships with various vendors in the market, particularly in the field of oncology analytics. We utilize artificial intelligence-based software to analyze X-rays and CT scans, primarily focusing on cancer progression prediction.

This AI software is instrumental in our radiology department as it automatically identifies anomalies within X-rays and CT scans. It categorizes these medical images into three groups: normal, anomalies detected by the AI, and areas where the AI is uncertain. The system then assists radiologists by directing their attention to the areas marked as anomalies, allowing them to review and confirm these findings or provide alternative diagnoses. The system continually learns from the feedback of the radiologists.

Currently, this technology is deployed in 15 hospital units. However, we are actively working on further AI applications, particularly in the realm of digital health. We are developing algorithms for disease classification, leveraging the wealth of data at our disposal.

In terms of use cases, our primary application of AI is in radio live analysis for cancer detection. From a clinical perspective, we have not fully integrated AI technology into our operations, but we recognize the vast potential for future use in predictive analytics for disease detection. With access to a substantial amount of health data, we aim to identify patterns that correlate conditions, symptoms, diagnoses, treatments, and disease outcomes. While there are existing organizations working in this space, we see the opportunity to develop a more comprehensive AI product tailored to our specific needs and patient population.

Can you share some details on your future initiatives?

We have several exciting future initiatives in the pipeline. One of the key areas we are exploring is the integration of cloud technology into our operations. While many of our non-core applications have already transitioned to the cloud, we recognize the unique challenges associated with our critical application, the hospital information system, which stores all patient data. The concerns around a single point of failure and Internet connectivity have led us to keep the primary hospital information system on-premises. However, as we build new hospitals, we are actively evaluating the possibility of moving this system to the cloud, while still maintaining on-premises solutions for backup and disaster recovery.

In terms of data management, we acknowledge that certain medical data, such as CT images and radiology reports, can be quite large, and data movement can pose challenges, especially when latency is a concern. Despite this, we are in the early stages of testing cloud installations for new hospitals to determine their feasibility and impact on our business operations. If successful, this may open the door for further cloud adoption.

From a healthcare technology perspective, we are highly focused on patient safety and wellness. We are exploring the use of technology to enhance patient safety during surgeries and post-operative care. This includes solutions for tagging and tracking surgical equipment and instruments to ensure nothing is left inside a patient after surgery. We are also investigating remote patient monitoring solutions, which would allow us to observe patients post-surgery from the comfort of their homes, reducing hospital stays and easing the burden on our facilities. Additionally, we are exploring ways to improve the patient experience and leverage technology to make healthcare more patient-friendly.

As of now, we have already implemented remote monitoring for our facilities but are in the process of evaluating wearables and sensors to monitor patients’ vital signs more effectively. We have also deployed smart beds in our hospitals with central monitoring stations that provide real-time data and video feeds, enabling us to keep a close eye on patients, especially in smaller centers with limited specialized staff. These initiatives are in line with our commitment to patient safety, efficient healthcare delivery, and the use of technology to enhance the overall patient experience.

Please share your perspective on best practices with respect to cyber security initiatives undertaken by your institution?
Our institution places a strong emphasis on cybersecurity, especially in light of recent developments in digital protection regulations. The Digital Protection Act has introduced significant obligations, and we have conducted extensive evaluations, particularly concerning our role as a hospital dealing with sensitive health data.

The implications of the Digital Protection Act are particularly relevant to us, given the nature of the health data we handle. This new legislation not only affects our internal processes but also heightens patient awareness and their demands for data security.

From an internal perspective, we are working to ensure that robust information security measures are in place. The government mandates the implementation of reasonable security measures and requires organizations to notify patients in specific ways in the event of data breaches. While these aspects are essential, we are also focusing on understanding the data we collect.

The Act highlights the importance of clearly specifying the purpose of collecting each piece of information. For instance, we are meticulous about the information we collect, including name, date of birth, age, and sex, especially if unrelated to treatment, as the type of treatment may vary based on these factors. Moreover, we evaluate why we collect data like addresses, insurance details, or religion. This level of transparency and purposeful data collection aligns with regulatory requirements and ensures compliance.

Additionally, one critical aspect we are addressing is consent management. We aim to establish a framework that informs patients about the data we collect, the reasons behind it, and obtains their consent for its use. Patients have the right to give or withdraw consent, request data deletion, or seek corrections if they believe the information is inaccurate. This consent management framework is a fundamental component of our compliance efforts.

Further, we recognize that data breaches can be costly and detrimental. Hence, we are diligently working on strengthening our cybersecurity measures to prevent breaches and to respond effectively if they occur.

Our institution is committed to cybersecurity best practices, particularly in the context of the Digital Protection Act. We are proactively addressing compliance, data transparency, and consent management to safeguard sensitive patient information and ensure that our cybersecurity initiatives remain robust and up-to-date.

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