India’s medical tourism is gearing up for AI

The role of AI in medical tourism is crucial. However, in India, its potential is yet to be fully tapped.  But India’s healthcare sector is gradually recognising AI’s huge potential and it is percolating into medical tourism, slowly  but  steadily. The need  is to  sustain  the impetus. 

   
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The tourism industry is finally making it out of the woods after the pandemic as the world is opening up day by day. The hospitality, healthcare, and tourism sectors are witnessing a re-emergence. During the pandemic, many industries were compelled to go digital and transfer their manual operations online. Technological developments saw a rise as more and more businesses started utilising various kinds of online services that were required by them to keep their work operational during COVID.

The spotlight, although, was stolen by the medical industries and businesses who made the best out of the opportunity and developed several ways to ease the processes of many of their operations. From blood reports to dated appointments for RT-PCR tests, everything was sorted and lined up by the help of several apps that came into play at that time. The players that were already there in this space saw the pandemic as an opportunity to raise their level and acquire a whole new set of users. PharmEasy, Healthify and LivLong, among many others were the kind of online app services that provided medical facilities.

India has always been an ideal destination for people who seek to visit the country for its medical facilities. They choose India as it comes across as a cheaper option compared to the high-priced medical services in the Western and European countries. With recent efforts like the ‘Heal in India’ initiative, things seem be going in the right direction.

Also Read: $774 bn revenue opportunity for India from healthcare by 2030: Report

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is being developed at an unprecedented rate. Technology is being improved exponentially, and with it the growth of AI is also accelerating. Machines for conducting MRIs, X-Rays, etc. can be a lot more efficient at their work if the technology behind them is further improved and upgraded.

The rise in the scale of AI usage and development can help the medical sector of India in many ways. The medical tourism sector of India is an untapped space that needs to be focused on, as it can turn India into one of the most popular destinations for medical urgencies.

“There is a need to reinvent the medical tourism industry by making it AI-enabled. Post the pandemic, medical tourism has been affected because people are not moving as freely as they used to and are also economically drained out,” says

Dr Bharat Rawat, Associate Director Cardiology, Medanta Hospital, Indore.

Medical tourism in India

India’s ancient medicinal system of Ayurveda is one of the most sought-after healing and treatment therapies in the world. The government’s initiatives in health tourism have never seen the kind of impetus that they are witnessing now. The recent ‘Heal in India’ initiative is an example of how serious the government is about cashing in on the potential of Indian health tourism.

The objective of this initiative is to create a strong healthcare system. The system should have a well-qualified faculty, high-end tech support, no barrier in language and positive government policies. This programme will also generate multiple jobs in the travel and tourism sector.

Although there will be some hurdles in the process, tackling the problem of the non-standardisation of treatment centres and maintaining health and hygiene in the hospitals and health centres will be the key.

“Due to the different facets of technology, Indian healthcare is exploring different ways of making medical care easier, accessible and more affordable for the masses. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is an area that we are exploring the most. With AI’s support in the health care sector, the speed and quality of health care being delivered is improving. AI can also predict and track the spread of infectious diseases by analysing data from governments, healthcare organizations, and other sources,”

says Gaurav Dubey, CEO of LivLong, an AI-based health-tech firm.

During this year’s Global investment in Ayush Summit, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi talked about India paving its way to become the hub for health and medical tourism. “India needs to build up an image that it’s a safe country to travel in. The connectivity and medical facilities have to be improved. We need to improve upon the ethics, etiquette and manners within our medical and tourism ecosystem,” points out Dr Rawat.

“AI, an advanced technology, enables us to make healthcare approachable and more affordable for all. There is a vast list of benefits that AI can offer to the world, especially in healthcare. With AI in our hands, we can get real-time data, streamline tasks, and save time and resources. Especially in times like the recent pandemic, we have come to realise the Importance of technology in healthcare. By implementing AI, we have not only made the lives of customers easier, but it has also immensely helped the healthcare professionals of the country. We should work on enabling data organization and online consultation with AI,” says Dubey.

Also Read: Awaiting a booster shot: here is what the healthcare sector wants from the Union Budget 2022

AI Maturity in the hospitality and healthcare sectors

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The rise in the adoption of AI in India is 45 per cent and is the highest when compared to the other major economies like the USA, the UK, and Japan. In the hospitality and travel sectors, around 89 per cent of the companies have adopted AI in some way or the other.

To counter COVID, the Indian Government and medical industries used technology very successfully. Healthcare operations across the nation amplified their dependency on technology for quicker responses and the faster dissemination of information.

According to a global study by PwC India, the highest increase in the use of AI has been witnessed in India during the pandemic. The study also indicated that AI adoption was 73 per cent in India among the healthcare and pharma companies. Experts cite the health emergencies during COVID-19 as the reason behind bringing AI to the centre stage.

Many efforts were made by the government like introducing AI-enabled chatbots that were used by MyGov for tackling the pandemic by ensuring fast-paced communications. In another effort to counter COVID, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) introduced the ‘Watson Assistant’ on their portal to provide assistance to the frontline staff and data entry operators. It did so by responding to their queries across several diagnostic and testing facilities in the country.

“We are on the path to AI maturity. However, a lot will go behind it as there is an extreme lack of resources and awareness. Organisations that transform with AI are expected to leverage intelligence systems to augment human intelligence. But each of these are still being actively worked upon,” Dubey points out.

Also Read: No business can do without data tech, AI adoption: Tata’s N Chandrasekaran

Reinvention of the medical industry through AI and challenges

“Our healthcare facilities per se are pretty good and cheap but the other ancillary and supportive systems should be made better,” underlines Dr Rawat.

Human civilisation has never seen development at the unprecedented level that it is witnessing now. The changes and transformations are taking place at a rapid pace. The healthcare and medical tourism sectors in India have been evolving rapidly as well.

With faster image scanning technologies in IVF and even breast cancer screening labs, test centres have massively improved with the use of AI. These developments are necessary to compete at a global level and to attract medical tourists to India.

According to a study by NASSCOM, as far as investments by both public and private players to bolster the quality and coverage of medical products and services is concerned, India still ranks low on the Healthcare Access and Quality (HAQ) index, and the sector faces several challenges too.

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The faults in the healthcare system came to the foreground during the pandemic: The doctor to patient ratio gap, the inadequate medical facilities, the bad infrastructure, etc. All these factors resulted in situations like the shortage of beds and other medical equipment in hospitals. The lack of bio safety measures and the low number of PPE kits for doctors further increased the risk of patient-doctor interactions.

Also Read: IMA urges government to withdraw GST on healthcare services

How it can help

The medical firms are also introducing AI solutions to enhance services like remote diagnostics, customer support via chatbots and tele consultations, among many others. The need for such services is growing as there is a shift in consumer behaviour as well. Monitoring the tourism trends in health tourism can be useful for marketing purposes to advertise the factors that can attract foreign medical tourists to the country.

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We are in an era of technological transformation. Change is not just an option but a necessity for the medical tourism and healthcare sectors now. The potential that this transformation holds is immense. It can be revolutionary if optimized well with the core of an organisation’s operations and management. AI has the ability to enhance and give solutions to healthcare facilities in order to make them more accessible to patients.

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Regulating, creating and keeping a check on the records of foreign visitors and the medical issues that they are visiting for can help us to focus on this field in a better manner. The data collected can help in projecting the growth of the healthcare and medical tourism sectors.

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According to the NASSCOM study, data and AI have the potential to contribute $450-$500 billion to India’s GDP by 2025. It represents 10 per cent of the $5 trillion economy aspiration for our country that we had pre-COVID-19. The healthcare sector will be a significant beneficiary of this potential value add with a contribution of $25-$30 billion.  

“AI improves efficiency and accuracy but it cannot replace the human factor completely. The physical presence of a medically trained doctor who can also give explanations and emotional support can’t be ignored,” says Dr Rawat.  

Also Read: ANSCER Robotics: This new age robotics start-up aims to become #1 in its domain

Upgrade healthcare facilities through AI    

The healthcare system of India has some cracks in it that make it difficult for it to function smoothly and efficiently. These cracks are just opportunities that are waiting to be mined. From product design and development to marketing and providing support to patients, there is scope for improvement in many aspects of our healthcare system.   

It is imperative to tap this neglected potential to boost health tourism in the country. It can also create opportunities that can completely change the medical and healthcare landscape of India.  

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“Most western countries are focusing on tech-enabled populations. Therefore, with the proper R&D, investment in research and more aware consumers, the nations can achieve more in the AI space,” Dubey asserts.

The road ahead

Governments and industries alike are making efforts to further excel in the field of healthcare. The aspects that need focus are still being recognised and work is being done to improve and modernise them. Great healthcare facilities and enhanced medical tourism go hand in hand.

“The role of AI is increasing. More and more hospitals are using technology to their advantage to help patients. Quality management systems are in place and protocols are being followed. These protocols can be checked better through AI. We are not yet using AI to treat a patient directly, but it is slowly coming up as an assisting tool,” points out Dr Rawat.

According to a study by Accenture, 60 per cent of companies are experimenting with AI. Some companies are putting more focus and effort into enabling AI in their businesses. Although, it is still to reach the optimum pace that is required to bring about an impactful transformation.

Investments in AI are slowly rising. In 2021, 19 per cent of the surveyed companies used more than 30 per cent of their tech budgets for AI projects. By 2024, the percentage of organizations investing more than 30 per cent of their tech budgets in AI will increase to 49 per cent.

A change is on the horizon. AI is in the process of being included in every sector and its pace will further gain momentum. There will be a lot of opportunities created by and for the tourism and healthcare sectors in the near future.

With progression, the sectors of medical tourism and healthcare in the country will be able to attain the heights of the global standards of excellence. The various efforts being made by the government and the private sector in this regard indicate a profitable future for the healthcare and medical tourism sectors of India.