Broadly segmented into medical equipments, implants, and medical disposables & furniture, the medical technology market offers a wide range of products “ from insulin pens to pacemakers, MRI scanners, life-support machines and so on. Given the global interest and concurrent research and development in healthcare, following are some of the most important and broadbased technological advances today
1.Management Information Systems: Whether a simple physicians clinic, or a large nation-wide chain of hospitals, an information system of some form has become almost mandatory in any healthcare setting. Such systems are generally marketed as clinic management systems, lab management systems, radiology information systems or hospital information systems. Today, when analysis of big-data is fast catching on, such information systems are most often the origin of most healthcare related data. With NABH and NABL accreditation also fast becoming a norm, such systems are essential to deliver the extensive quality reporting required to maintain these accreditations.
2.Electronic Medical Records: Every epidemiologists dream is to have a database of the medical history of every person alive. It would, in theory, help predict disease outbreaks and epidemics, determine causative and risk factors and in turn, help reduce general mortality and morbidity due to preventable and curable illnesses. Unfortunately, it is not possible to have a database of everyone as yet, but with Government initiatives such as the Aadhaar-UID project, and widespread computerisation of medical records via information systems, all that is required is for someone to assume the role of a connector- an organisation whose sole responsibility would be to integrate all the various software systems implemented across the country with the Aadhaar card.
3.Telemedicine: Telemedicine initiatives have been around in India for quite a while, especially teleradiology, for which India has become a hub. Many radiologists today work either from their homes or from corporate offices, where they report MRI, CT and X-Ray cases from around the world. Recently, the concept of Intensive Care Units which are linked to control rooms in large cities has picked up. This will not only exponentially increase the quality of care provided in non-metro cities, but will also provide a unique training opportunity to intensive care physicians in such cities. USB enabled ECGs, thermometers, pulse-oxymeters and even ultrasounds are bound to increase penetration of healthcare services in rural India, by simply using existing 2G and 3G networks.
4.Computer Aided Diagnosis: Computer Aided Diagnosis/ Detection (CAD) systems are software solutions that assist radiologists in seeing images and diagnosing diseases in cases where either the lesions may be too small or the data-set too big. I include such a specific technology in this list because it is testament of the incursion of artificial intelligence and related algorithms into commercially available medical technology. Recently, CAD systems were introduced for the first time in India with mammography system to assist in breast cancer screening. Globally, CAD systems are being used, but sparingly so, in colon cancer and lung cancer screening.
5.Robotics: Robots are everywhere today. They are helping give arms to amputees and mobility to the paralysed. They help surgeons do complicated surgeries (halfway across the world!) and pathologists perform guided biopsies. Robotics is one field in medicine today that is limited only by ones imagination. There are even extremely small robots that are swallowed as pills and go inside the intestines all the while clicking photographs and sending them to a computer outside via Bluetooth! In fact, micro-robots are currently under development which may go and directly target harmful bacteria.
6.Simulation Learning: From emergency care to advanced laparoscopic procedures, todays technology makes it possible for budding healthcare providers to acquire their skills without the possibility of making mistakes on live human patients. High-resolution CT scanning, combined with the ability to print 3D models internal organs of specific patients, even makes it possible for surgeons to practice complicated cases without actually touching the patient at all. Simulation learning is an evolving field with huge potential and scope to change medical practice.
7.Non-invasive Treatments: Non-invasive treatment methodologies are a step beyond minimally invasive surgeries, where there are absolutely no incisions that are made on the patients body. CyberKnife and GammaKnife radiotherapy treatments are very popular for targeting cancers. Newer non-invasive treatments include High-Intensive Focused Ultrasound (HIFU) which uses ultrasound rays to heat the tumour and in turn triggers the tumour to die. It has been successfully used in fibroids, bone cancer and prostate cancer. Proton Beam therapy, although prohibitively expensive, is touted to be the next big thing in radiation therapy with near 100 percent accuracy.
8.Health Information Portals: In todays cyber-age, information is but a mouse-click away. Patients are becoming more knowledgeable than doctors and hence, the onus of directing patients in the right direction, to reliable sources of medical information has become part of a doctors job. The need of the hour is to have dedicated sources of such information with an Indian perspective. Such websites, combined with information portals, would give quality advise to patients and hence facilitate the treatment process improving clinical outcomes.