Pandemic triggers faster adoption of technology for healthcare challenges: Prof S Sadagopan

Nandita Vijay, BengaluruSaturday, November 28, 2020, 08:00 Hrs  [IST]

The pandemic has seen a new urgency in closing the gaps in providing healthcare access to remote areas of the country with the use of modern technology.

Though modern healthcare system represents some of the greatest achievements of the human intellect in improving the quality of people’s lives, in this modern age, many people in rural and underdeveloped regions in India and globally, still lack access to basic healthcare, said Professor S Sadagopan, Director, International Institute of Information Technology, Bangalore (IIITB).

This is where drones play a key role in providing pre-hospital emergency care, accelerate laboratory diagnostic testing and transport of vaccines, haematological products and automated external defibrillators. “IIIT Bangalore is focused on post-graduate IT education and research funded by the Karnataka government and the IT industry under a public private partnership model and our students worked with the state government, also partnered with companies to build drones,” he added.

Entrepreneurs in the medical industry have also begun prototyping and testing several of these drones that can be used to enable access to rural areas for blood sample deliveries, tackling emergency situations, etc.  Such innovation will help fill the gap caused by lack of standardized healthcare facilities across the country and bring timely medical services to previously inaccessible regions, he added.

Our E-Health Research Center at IIITB conducts applied research in a range of IT domains with the objective of improving healthcare services, especially in underserved areas. This research is intended to address issues of availability, accessibility and affordability of healthcare services, with a focus on medical devices, health data, and healthcare delivery systems, said Prof Sadagopan at the recently concluded Bangalore Technology Summit where several of IIITB technologies were showcased.  

Some of the areas of work include robotics where at our Surgical and Assistive Robotics Lab prototype devices such as hyperflexible surgical microscopes for neurosurgery, rehabilitative devices and exoskeletons are developed.

A number of projects are being driven to explore machine learning and deep learning techniques for the analysis of medical images such as MRI, retina, histopathology slides for improved diagnostic support. ML techniques are also being leveraged for the analysis of large volumes of clinical data in cohort studies. In Virtual Reality too in collaboration with NIMHANS, our team is developing VR-based therapy for social anxiety and phobias

Most of these solutions are being developed in collaboration with doctors and health professionals, with NIMHANS as a major partner. Further, for some of these solutions, we have partnered with startups in the IIITB Innovation Centre, such as HealtheLife, Vision Empower, Hyperreality, etc. to take these solutions to the market. Some of the solutions in the area of public health, such as e-Manas of the Karnataka Mental Health Management System have been deployed by the State health and family welfare department.

These innovations have been designed keeping in mind the need to collaborate with the larger fraternity and address real-time challenges faced by the healthcare sector in India.  Additionally, we are also working on other innovations like ultrasound devices for real-time imaging in neurosurgery, platforms for managing health data on a large scale in public health programs, mobile and internet-based solutions for self-help and therapy for conditions such as depression. Assistive solutions for persons with visual disabilities like for instance the tactile diagrams with audio readers that can be used for science education for children with visual impairment, said Prof Sadagopan.