Artificial intelligence really can have dramatic impact on how we address healthcare in India, how we can become the leading country in the developing world, on how AI is being applied to improve healthcare.

Shahid Akhter, editor, ETHealthworld spoke to Sunil Wadhwani, Founder Donor, WISH Foundation, New Delhi to know about the foundation's adoption of technology in solving the various needs in primary healthcare.

Primary healthcare and the trends in India
Primary healthcare is the foundation of healthcare. In order to have an effective healthcare system overall, you need an effective primary healthcare system. In many parts of India, primary healthcare has made significant progress, especially if we look at states in southern India, states in western India and some of the states in northern India. Many of the large low income states in India still have a long way to go. The good news is that the leadership, governments in these states recognize that the primary healthcare system in the states does need a lot of improvement, they are very open to new ideas. I think people have seen how technology and innovation can play a very big part in improving primary healthcare.

Achieving healthy India by 2027 goals
At Wish Foundation, the non-profit foundation that I founded 4 years ago, our mission is to work with government to help government achieve their healthcare goals for the citizens of India. We are focusing on improving primary healthcare and improving its game changing technology and innovation. Our goal is that by year 2027, which is the 80th anniversary of India’s independence, that everyone in India will have access to good quality primary healthcare regardless of their income level, so we call it goal Healthy India at 80.

Transformation of healthcare through innovations and technology
The way we apply technology and innovation to improve primary healthcare at Wish foundation is the following different components, namely the preventive component, diagnostic component, treatment component, and the follow up component.

We bring tech to strengthen each of these areas. On the diagnostic side the health and wellness centres, a lot of the patients are run on smart, intelligent diagnostic devices which take the data from the patient, transfer it to the physicians who might be remote and then use the data to come with the best treatment options for the patient.

On the treatment side, there are many areas in the India especially in rural part of India where physicians are unavailable, so we use telemedicine. Again technology as a way of making physicians available to patients so they don’t worry, so they get consultation right after that. All of this can be taken to even higher level by applying technology, like artificial intelligence to this because then all the data we gather can be analyzed using artificial intelligence technology to then start predicting which individuals are more likely to get sick, when disease breaks out, AI can help predict when it might break out, where it might breakout and hence enable the government and private sector to take actions to reduce that break out. There is lot that is possible in India; we just have the very early stages of applying technology and innovation in primary healthcare. I believe in next few years people will see a huge amount of progress and we hope that our NGO, Wish foundation will play a big part in it.

Innovations, technological solutions & artificial intelligence in primary healthcare
When the government of India came out in 2017 with its new National Health Policy for improving primary health sub centres that currently exists in India, many of which are not functional because of lack of medical care, lack of functional equipments, lack of medicines and the government’s role is to transform these 1050 thousand sub centres into health and wellness centres. A plan of health and wellness centres is to provide preventive healthcare to local communities so hopefully we can cut down the disease and mortality rate in the country.

We at wish foundation have developed the first model of the technology enabled health and wellness centres. We have 10 of these centres running right now in rural Rajasthan and in just 90 days we are expecting to take this number to over a 100 technology enabled health and wellness centres. This model is getting lot of attention from many state governments in India and we are speaking with many of them and seeking how we can assist them in rolling this kind of model.

How states are ruling out technology enabled health & wellness centres?
We started working with several states in ruling out technology enabled primary heath canters and health and wellness centres. So we are doing this in Rajasthan, Delhi NCR, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana. Wish foundation is running over 300 primary health clinics in these areas. Last year we treated over 4 million people with free healthcare through this technology enabled centres and results are quite remarkable. In the areas where we work, we see immunization levels going up, out-patient volume going up dramatically because these people now know that they we will be now attended to, we are seeing antenatal, postnatal care visits going up and all thanks to the introduction of technology. This is getting a lot of attention from many other states and we are hoping that this model will be expanding dramatically in next 2-3 years.

Artificial intelligence and primary healthcare
Artificial intelligence really can have dramatic impact on how we address healthcare in India, how we can become the leading country in the developing world, on how AI is being applied to improve healthcare. For example; TB is a huge concern for a developing country like India, almost 2 million people are tracked for tuberculosis in India every year and half of million people die every year. It is a disease that causes a lot of tragedy.

AI can dramatically help to track TB. For example one of first things that is done when someone is suspected of having TB is taking sputum sample and analyzing that sample. We at Wish Foundation and our sister institute called the Wadhwani Institute for Artificial Intelligence we have developed algorithms that automate the process of sputum analysis. Right now we don’t have enough people in India who can do this analysis while AI algorithms can do this as well human beings can.

AI can be trained and algorithms can be developed to spot the disease very early on. Multiple drug resistant TB is affecting increasing number of people. Right now 5% TB patients get MD-TB but they account for half of the overall cost spent in India for TB, so it’s a huge issue.

The challenge for MDR-TB is that the complex cocktail of drugs that are needed for each patients to treat them varies from patient to patient and it can be very complicated, coming up with the right combinations. AI can make a huge difference in analyzing and coming up with these combinations very quickly...

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Healthcare, Economic Times, Wish Foundation, Artificial Intelligence