Dr. Shravan Subramanyam, Managing Director, Wipro GE Healthcare Pvt. Ltd. and President & CEO, GE Healthcare South Asia
Speaks about building capacity & scaling up, to ease the burden of the frontline workers. Also, how technology will be a major game changer in healthcare
The video is a detailed account of a conversation with him. Below is an excerpt…
How are healthcare front line professionals contributing to managing the second wave at the moment?
We have seen around 25 million recoveries from last year, with robust vaccination administration right now, which is credited to the work of frontline warriors. We, as part of the healthcare industry, have an opportunity to play a major part in this journey. The medical devices industry too is working very closely with the greater healthcare ecosystem. We have a strong sense of purpose, which creates engagement in these tough times. Most healthcare warriors are highly motivated and committed to the cause of crisis alleviation.
How prepared is India to meet a third surge or wave of COVID-19?
We have a lot to learn from the last couple of experiences, but we also have more resources at our disposal than available previously. A combination of solutions is the key to preparedness. We need to do two things – skill and scale up:
- Our frontline workers are adequately skilled and are learning from other countries, hospitals and even each other on a daily basis. Technology is an excellent tool to facilitate skill building. Online resources like videos and live training from around the world can be made available to build skills further
- We need to scale up in order to ensure that the resources available in metropolitan hospitals are also available in rural areas. Hospitals can put in effort to set up numerous tele-monitoring systems, whereby the capacity of an ICU can be expanded greatly. One of the rare resources that we have is Intensive Care Specialists, which cannot be increased in number. Technology can allow them to reach patients across different hospitals
How can technology support the frontline workers for deriving maximum utility?
A great example is the use of algorithms that can be used to facilitate radio diagnosis, CT scans and X-rays with greater speed. We have capacity constraints on the number of machines, radiologists and other technologists. Artificial Intelligence based solutions could be developed to augment the facilities we possess. AI can help improve diagnosis speed, data collection, and data analysis in the healthcare sector. Telemedicine allows for diagnosis and monitoring of patients’ conditions remotely using video calls and other means.
Stress and overworking have become the norm for many frontline workers. Can we use technology for counselling?
The health and safety of frontline workers is of paramount importance. The first step is to acknowledge the feelings of stress and anxiety. Feeling vulnerable or distressed is not abnormal. Physical and mental health go hand in hand. Physical health measures like meditation, yoga or other forms of exercise are vital and contribute to mental fitness. I myself do yoga for fitness. Exercising with your family is a great way to have relaxing social interactions, while improving your bodily health.
Technology is also an unexpected boon for mental health. Attending informative webinars that deal with emotional distress like depression and grief or physical health like yoga sessions have benefits for everyone, especially frontline champions.
Working overtime puts workers at a greater risk of attrition. Is there adequate additional workforce to shift the load from professionals who are overburdened?
Feeling of extreme stress can cause hesitation to continue working on the frontline consistently. We have an adequately educated workforce in normal circumstances, but during a major surge in cases, there is a greater need for capacity building. This involves training people at a short notice, bringing in professionals from allied fields, utilizing technological aid, and more. If one Indian state experiences a major surge, a logistical solution could also be utilizing professionals from other states that are less affected. As a long-term measure, creating a base of reserve corps to tackle future health epidemics is a sensible step.
Resistance or hesitation towards taking the COVID-19 vaccines has been noticed. This is in turn resulting in more cases. Your take on this.
Vaccine hesitancy due to distrust or worry about side effects has been observed worldwide. We need to understand the reasons for peoples’ hesitancy. While these vaccines are new, people are starting to learn more and more about them. Education is key to building trust in the effectiveness of vaccines. You can take medical advice to clearly understand which vaccine is the best for you. Follow the protocols laid by medical professionals and the Government on which vaccine to take and when. As results of vaccinations become more observable, we will see more willingness of people towards getting vaccinated.
How can we take care of non-COVID patients, as COVID remains at centerstage?
As we try to flatten the COVID curve, many hospitals and nursing homes are also making great efforts to provide remote care for NCDs. Teleradiology and telemedicine are being utilized to some degree. Hospitals need to lay out a proper pathway to allow people access vital information that they require before seeking treatment. Primary physicians have a central role to play in these circumstances, as they deal with the immediate needs of patients at clinics, nursing homes or remotely. Universal precautions need to be taken to protect both patients and healthcare workers, even when dealing with non-COVID diseases. This allows patients with NCDs to feel safe to come in for treatments.
How do we empower the rural population to use facilities like the CoWIN app?
The divide between urban and rural may become narrower, due to technology and real-time information dissemination that exists now. Smaller institutions, the Government, and large chain hospitals are able to reach one another and get help that they require more efficiently. Supply chains have matured greatly in the last one year. The rural-urban gap doubtlessly still exists, and we need to work with a sense of purpose to bridge it.
Access to digital means of communication has improved across the country in the past few years. The Government has to proactively deal with this challenge. NGOs, telecom companies and even Anganwadi workers can be roped in to help take digital literacy to peoples’ doorsteps.
What are the lessons to carry forward from the first and second wave?
The rapid response to surge in cases was only possible due to the lessons we have learnt from the past year. Building strong supply chains that allow us to get essential products from one point to another with efficiency, is a lesson that we will carry forward. Better treatment protocols were developed after careful evaluation. Complacency must be avoided even when the numbers show a decline after the second wave, as this was a mistake made previously. Proactive action and capacity building should remain our priorities.
How should we perceive the conflict between allopathy and Ayurveda in India for COVID treatment?
We urge people to follow science and evidentiary data. Please exercise caution and do not prioritize any treatment before it has sufficient data to support its effectiveness. Yoga and Ayurveda have their merits, but must be practiced with the right expectations and knowledge. Those with proper education in alternative medicine can provide care to people with certain conditions. Coexistence is possible, but should not come at the cost of neglecting better treatment options. Educated choices need to be made by people.
How can we motivate the next generation of youngsters, to take up healthcare as a profession? Seeing the struggles of frontline workers may demotivate them.
Healthcare may look radically different in the future. It is likely to become more distributive and personalized. It will reach more remote areas and become greatly tech enabled. Current healthcare professions should share their stories and bring more people into the fold. Teachers, the Government and organizations like NATHEALTH enable us to convey the value that healthcare has to society.
Has COVID caused a lasting trust deficit in the healthcare system or have we overcome it?
A lack of trust was caused by panic and anxiety due to a novel virus. The healthcare industry needs to act more transparently and be more open regarding informing families and sharing data. Transparency begets trust.