Healthcare personnel shortages in India are being filled by artificial intelligence (AI) to help make medical services available to segments of the population that are often skipped over, according to a Monday (May 18) report in Financial Times (FT).
In a review of the country’s AI-powered healthcare offerings, the nonprofit research group Centre for Internet and Society said the primary focus of the technology is to expand services to underserved populations. According to World Bank data, some two-thirds of India’s population live in rural areas.
The medical startup Sattva MedTech received a $100,000 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to conduct trials on AI-based tools to diagnose fetal distress, which is a central cause of neonatal mortality in the country.
Vibhav Joshi, chief executive and co-founder, said that lower-skilled employees can use the technology. “[Many rural] health centers don’t have fetal monitoring systems, and even if they have the conventional doppler test, they don’t have the skilled personnel to conduct the investigation,” Joshi told FT.
Another example of AI-powered healthcare tools comes from medical startup Avyantra. The company is working on an algorithm that uses the mother’s risk factors and the infant’s medical data to predict sepsis in newborns.
“We have identified about 30 parameters, such as blood pressure and color of the newborn’s skin,” said Hyma Goparaju, Avyantra co-founder. “The AI then generates a score, which the health worker can use to decide [based on a risk score] if the newborn needs to be shifted to a hospital.”
Unicef granted Avyantra $100,000 in funding to work on the algorithm.
However, there are critics who are concerned that predictive AI-powered healthcare tools could invade patients' privacy. For example, there are no regulations or industry watchdogs to stop hospitals from sharing data with AI healthcare companies, according to Vidur Mahajan, a member of the Indian Council of Medical Research’s committee that is establishing ethical parameters for AI research.
“When my company started working with AI developers, we decided to explicitly take consent from patients for using their data for AI development,” noted Mahajan, who also heads research and development at Mahajan Imaging, a diagnostic and imaging facility based in New Delhi. “In terms of regulation, software is not treated like a drug in India.”
The coronavirus pandemic has put a new focus on healthcare. Adrian Aoun, CEO and founder of Forward, a tech-driven healthcare startup, told PYMNTS' Karen Webster that the overhaul needs to leverage data and AI.