CIO's Desk: Leveraging technology to address healthcare skill gaps

We don’t have the luxury of time to develop the infrastructure in the whole of the country. The suggested action plan is think-digital-do-digital.

CIO's Desk: Leveraging technology to address healthcare skill gaps - CIO&Leader

In late 2014, I joined the healthcare industry from a pure technology service provider. One apparent question was, what represents the difference between two industries? I was unequipped to even comment as it took some time for me to understand the ecosystem. Technology is all about going deeper into diverse function/domain from traditional areas of HR, finance, supply chain, marketing to sunrise sectors like e-commerce, logistics, fintech, etc. The work is full of excitement as each day there is a new dawn, a new way of solving problems, applying some best practices in creative modes, etc.

Now, let me flip to the core of healthcare. On a daily basis clinicians see the same kind of patients for their respective specialization & almost the same job, maybe a little bit of variations. On the surface it looks boring, but it is unadulterated satisfaction of the highest level when clinicians see the unstated gratitude in the eyes of their patient and the family. In my view, that’s the difference between two industries – Excitement Vs Satisfaction. That’s the satisfaction one looks for in the professional life. For me, it was a blessing to get associated with a noble cause of care, though indirectly.

Unfortunately, worldwide in general and particularly in India, the doctor-to-patient or nurse-to-patient ratios are low. And healthcare workers are over-burdened resulting in compromise on two fronts – quality care and timely care. The government and private players have undertaken several initiatives to increase the seats or set up new medical & nursing colleges.

But apart from doctors and nurses, there is an equally significant cadre of healthcare support staff who takes away the load from them. This cadre includes a phebolmatist, biomedical engineer, emergency & OT technician and home-care aide. The industry is one of the most stressed, and one of the reasons is the shortage of skilled healthcare professionals. The dichotomy is, on the one hand, we have rising unemployment in the country, and on the other hand, there is a shortage of skilled healthcare workforce. The logical way to address the gap is by skilling the new entrants and up-skilling the existing workforce for these attractive and exciting roles.

Technology-Bridging the gap

To address the current crisis, the government, NGO & private forums offer multiple customized crash courses for covid-19 healthcare workers. But the gap is enormous, it is beyond covid-19 and need is multi-facets on quality and quantity. Traditional methods using typical class room experience may take extremely prolonged time to address this gap as the need is in each and every district of the country. We don’t have the luxury of time to develop the infrastructure in the whole of the country. The suggested action plan is think-digital-do-digital. Comprehending the sensitivity of the environment, the healthcare staff needs a skill which is driven by reality, has first-hand interpretation, is activity-based and is almost real-life learning.

Virtual Reality (VR) represents a cost-effective technology, appropriate for lasting and high impact training to healthcare staff. VR is the platform which can simulate critical situations in controlled environments, i.e., without essentially putting patients or staff in danger. VR simulates the real-life environment, enact patient interactions and perform measurements which are more engaging than the classroom-driven workshops or through the modern computer-based training. Some familiar examples could be training on Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) or Acute Cardiovascular Life Support (ACLS). These are lifesaving techniques effective in many emergency situations when someone's breathing or heartbeat has stopped.

Also, most of the medical interventions need coordinated activities which are difficult to simulate in the classroom. Examples includes emergency response, fire safety, disaster management or performance of a complex operation by a well-coordinated caregiver team. Another skill in the primary healthcare setting is to enable correct understanding of symptoms and co-relation to a possible ailment as the first step of any diagnosis.


Finally, let me talk specific on why the IT workforce should join healthcare. In a traditional IT service company, IT team involvement is typically in coding, testing, etc. while in healthcare IT, the work starts by nailing the accurate problem definition to design thinking to change management, and connecting three dots of the domain, technology, and scale of operations.

Additionally, in my view, there are a few areas where a disruptive transformation is expected using IT. These are IOT, Big Data, AI, VR and Robotics. Not many industry verticals apart from healthcare can boost to have availability of such data and defined use cases for usage of mentioned technologies. There is no dearth of examples on how these technologies will be leveraged in the healthcare industry. And the IT team, indeed, would be at the fulcrum of such initiatives.

Professionals from various streams should explore joining healthcare to get that sense of satisfaction and also enhance their social equity.

The author is Group CIO at Medanta Hospitals

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