Healthcare is poised at a crucial tipping point today. Thanks to technologies like AI, Machine Learning and — new buzzword — Internet of Medical Things (IoMT), vast amounts of clinical data can now be gobbled up, digested and interpreted within seconds. The patient’s medical history, past and present lifestyle, living environment, personal habits, present medication and genetics can be rapidly analysed to predict future ailments that could conceivably lead to a life-threatening situation. This is where predictive healthcare morphs into preventive healthcare.
This — complemented by DNA testing — is already being touted as the next big technological advancement in healthcare. All this patient-centred data will go into one electronic window called Electronic Health Record (EHR), which may soon become a global standard: Your EHR will be accessible where ever you go ensuring you receive immediate care, anytime anywhere.
Philips, a leader in healthcare technology is touting another avatar of AI: solutions that are secure, firmly grounded in scientific research, and validated in clinical practice. They call this combination of AI solutions and domain knowledge: adaptive intelligence. The company has launched a global startup collaboration programme focused on the application of artificial intelligence in healthcare. One of the three centres is Bangalore. The India team screened more than 150 healthcare start-ups in the Asia-Pacific region that had AI and radiology as part of their proposition and the most promising five start-ups are being coached and facilitated today from Philips Innovation Campus, Bangalore.
In other ways too, India has become a fertile ground for startup innovators who are cannily marrying AI and medicine to provide new generation healthcare solutions. Here are the promising new ventures:
But the biggest inroads of robots in healthcare may be in the area of surgery. Robotic Surgery also known as Robot-assisted surgery, marries advanced computer technology with the skill and experience of a human surgeon. It is a method of performing surgery using very small tools attached to a robotic arm. The surgeon controls and manipulates the arm from a computer console. The huge advantage is this: An electronic eye in the robot arm sends back a high definition 3-D image, magnified 10 times, which the surgeon can view on the computer screen: something not possible in conventional surgery.
The surgeon uses controls in the console to manipulate special surgical instruments that are smaller and more flexible than the human hand. The robot replicates the surgeon’s hand movements, and eliminates human shortcomings like hand tremors. The result: surgeons are able to perform the most complex procedures with a higher degree of precision, dexterity and control than humanly possible.
The All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi, led the robotic revolution in India. The first robotic surgery (of the prostate) was performed at AIIMS in July 2006. The first robotic device to perform surgical procedures was the da Vinci Surgical System launched in 2000 — and it remains the most widely used worldwide — there are some 60 installations in India alone. Robotic surgery is increasingly used the for treatment of prostate, kidney and urinary bladder cancer as well as for spine surgery. But in a country where such advanced technology tends to be concentrated in metros, can robots perform surgery remotely — with the surgeon miles away from the patient? This exciting possibility became reality — a few months ago.
The CorPath system from US-based Corindus Vascular Robotics was used to conduct the world’s first-in-human robotic coronary surgery in India on December 4 and 5, 2018. Five patients located at the Apex Heart Institute in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, underwent the procedure from a distance of 32 km. It was performed by Dr. Tejas Patel, Chairman and Chief Interventional Cardiologist of the Apex Heart Institute, from inside the Swaminarayan Akshardham temple in Gandhinagar. Robotic surgery is a done thing today and the option is increasingly available in India’s leading hospitals. Now after the successful Ahmedabad trial, the Next Wave may well be Tele Robotics — robotics surgery from afar.
Tricog: Insta ECG
Headed by cardiologist Charit Bhograj, Tricog found a value proposition in that ubiquitous diagnostic tool the Electro Cardio Graph or ECG. The likelihood of surviving a heart attack is over 80 per cent if action is taken within the first two hours. However, the average time between symptoms and treatment in India is over 6 hours. By simply reducing this, millions of lives can be saved every year.
While heart attacks can be detected by a quick ECG, there are two constraints: First: most primary care clinics are not equipped with ECG machines. Second: Even where such machines are available, staff do not receive sufficient training in ECG interpretation. This is where Tricog steps in — by providing, the fast and accurate diagnosis of an ECG, by combining AI Technology with human expertise. Tricog ECG devices, strategically located at local clinics help doctors detect heart complications within minutes. The devices are cloud-connected and accessed by trained expert doctors. Within minutes of collecting the ECG results, the diagnosis is shared with both the patient and the doctor in real-time.
SigTuple: Analysing visual medical data
Bangalore-based SigTuple creates AI-based solutions to automate healthcare screening. It has built intelligent screening solutions to aid diagnosis through AI-powered analysis of visual medical data. The start-up founded by Apurv Anand and Rohit Pandey in 2015, has created an AI platform, Manthana, which helps analyse visual medical data efficiently. This analyses blood, urine, semen etc — and chest X Rays.
Their USP is the speed with which this data is analysed... enabling doctors to make a quick diagnosis in life threatening situations. SigTuple was given the ‘Judges’ Choice’ award at the Google’s first Demo Day Asia programme held in Shanghai, late last year.
NIRAMAI: New way to check breast cancer
Most women are aware of the importance of checking early for any signs of breast cancer. And some still keep putting off a traditional test because of the hassle.
Now maybe, more women will take the test —with a new procedure that is simple, non-invasive and radiation free. It is called NIRAMAI (Non-Invasive Risk Assessment with Machine Intelligence), and harnesses an innovation, Thermalytix, a combo of AI with thermal imaging — eat maps — to detect breast cancer at an early stage.
NIRAMAI which means ‘free from illness’ in Sanskrit is a Bangalore-based tech startup cofounded by Dr Geetha Manjunath, earlier a Principal Research Scientist at Hewlett Packard Laboratories for 17 years and Nidhi Mathur, former Senior Product Manager at Xerox Research.
The breast cancer test is based on six patents and is currently available in Bangalore, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Pune, Mysore, Dehradun and Odisha.
Robotic health-givers: Machines assist Man
Care giving is hard work, tedious, boring and often emotionally draining. Most of it is done by the lowest paid rung of medical workers. And there is always a shortage of such staff. Which is why the healthcare assistive robot market is seen as the most promising application of robots in medicine — and an estimated $1.2 billion market within five years.
Walking robots that cart medication and supplies across hospitals are a common sight in some Japanese and American hospitals, replacing ‘runners’ and ward boys.
But what about a robot that wakes up elderly patients greet them with a human-like voice, help them out of bed and make sure they are clean after going to the toilet, then ensure they take their medicine? The Robot Caregiver is triggering a gold rush-like trend in end-of-life care and will soon enable many such patients to remain in their own homes. Robots with brand names like Paro, Tugs and Bestic are available off the shelf, to assist the elderly.