Dr. Sharada Rao, Vertical Head – Delivery, Life Sciences, Birlasoft

Dr. Sharada Rao is the Vertical Head – Delivery for Life Sciences at Birlasoft, managing ITeS services for Pharmaceuticals, Biotechnology, and Medical Devices customers globally. She is a techno-functional industry leader with 30 years of experience in multiple business leadership functions, strategy, innovation, and operations. She is adept at leading global, cross-cultural teams and building organizations for stakeholder value. She has played the roles of Board Member and CEO to two start-ups prior to joining Birlasoft. She has gestated futuristic Industry 4.0 post-graduate academic curriculum at premier business schools in India.


During the early outbreak of the pandemic last year, Huawei Cloud offered an artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled pneumonia diagnostic solution to several hospitals in Ecuador. This example of the use of cloud technology in the effort to beat COVID-19 was much publicized. The Vice President of the Latin American nation, Otto Sonnenholzner, credited the Chinese tech major for enabling Ecuador to become the first country within the region to embrace a game-changing technology that would allow medical practitioners to determine the standard of care on patients infected with the coronavirus. 

Huawei wasn’t the only case in point of a technology company diving into the realms of remote patient care in the light of a pandemic. Technology giants, the likes of Google, were quick to set foot into this sector and maximize first-mover advantage. In collaboration with their partner MTX Group, Google Cloud developed a cloud-based application to extract insights and monitor the coronavirus disease spread. Google assisted the Oklahoma State Department of Health in the United States to deploy an app that enabled healthcare professionals to follow up directly with patients exhibiting symptoms. 

Exploring the Full Potential of Virtual Care

Interestingly, the pandemic has changed the focus of technology corporations from scouting for opportunities to leverage automation to reap business benefits to innovators who are transforming healthcare through their renewed emphasis on fulfilling public health responsibilities. Similarly, healthcare providers, virologists, drug manufacturers have significantly changed their modus operandi. Deviating from legacy processes of clinical trials, they’ve come to embrace technology as the determining factor in their scope of operations. 

Upon critical analysis of the management of vaccine trials globally, one can see the role of AI and intelligent automation every step of the way. There has been a cross-border collaboration in discovery, precision in manufacturing, and improved speed in drug lifecycle management. Sharing clinical lifecycle data on the cloud-enabled global pharmaceutical stakeholders to monitor and evaluate parameters of adverse events reporting systems (AERS) in a unified manner. Trends such as these forced a sudden modernization of the biopharma industry, the outcome of which was seen in metrics of improved personalized care, connected delivery of patient supervision, and standardization of remote care towards the end objective of saving lives. 

Being Mindful of Technology, Judiciously Securing the Process of Modernization 

Evidently, the adoption of AI and modern technologies of cloud computing can transcend traditional physical boundaries within an organization. Leveraging the internet of things (IoT) enables the provision of medical services over connected cloud platforms. Doctors stand to gain in providing secure and private telehealth consultations and oversee patients at scale through holistic patient-centric connected care solutions. 

While there is increasing recognition of cloud technologies in healthcare, one cannot simply ignore that the adoption of these new-age technologies may be hampered by concerns of quality assurance, privacy, service reliability, and data integrity. The pandemic context has imbibed a strong sense of purpose in implementing and benefiting from the fast scale-up of cloud-based solutions. Now that the momentum to this compulsion has been established, it is time to be mindful of the risks and compromises associated with the execution of such solutions at speed. 

As we weigh and dissect these threats, we cannot simply shy away from cloud technologies overall to repudiate the risks related to them. To this end, it is the additional reliance on blockchain and connected physical platforms that can help pharmaceutical companies take off in the direction of improved healthcare practices, which are secure in the truest sense of the term. 

A blockchain-based technology platform, VXPASS, which deals in the management, storage, and verification of global vaccination records, announced the release of their digital covid card. This allows medical professionals to securely document a patient’s status during their vaccination doses by creating a digitally signed version of the COVID-19 vaccine certificates. VXPASS has, in effect, signaled the medical sciences industry towards a direction of data repository which records all relevant vaccine data without storing personally identifiable information (PII). 

This is a welcome development in healthcare as hospitals today are expected to keep complete electronic health records at their disposal. It is imperative, PII data need to be secure, encrypted, and available on interoperable cloud platforms. To address data breaches and cybersecurity concerns, blockchain in healthcare is gradually emerging as the norm and not an exception. Medical and law enforcement authorities now can have standardized encrypted records of vaccination, including when each dose was administered, and the type of vaccine taken. 

Telehealth practices are being rapidly adopted, and COVID-19 has only accelerated the pace of this adoption. Last year alone, the US reported 46% of their patients had opted for a telehealth consultation; this was a stark increase from its 11% metric in 2019. Using AI and cloud-enabled technology platforms, healthcare service providers can provide seamless experiences to their patients that overcome the need for physical contact or presence. Patient-centric connected care, device and IOT in Medical-enabled services, secure and private telehealth, data lakes on the cloud, and efficiencies of scale in care delivery are now forcing holistic platform creation for healthcare that combine these features. These Connected Physician Platforms offer enhanced medical research, enhanced hospital operations, and a connection with key opinion leaders that helps drive prescription patterns and healthcare solutions. AI drives improved HCP data management, smoother operations, insights-driven healthcare, and speed of the process.

Healthcare providers (HCPs) connected on the cloud through IoT-enabled technology platforms have claimed that they can supervise 50 to 175 times the number of patients than they did before. While this gives ample scope for medical organizations to broaden their avenues of research and hospital operations and offer new forms of prescriptive care, the feasibility of this trend can only be attested if technology assures controlled management of patient data and insights be used towards the end of improved healthcare. 

 Assurance of the required sort can be done if the medical supply chain is modernized to track fraudulent and suspicious activities. The business case for securitization of the industry can be formulated from the total $250 billion of current US healthcare spending that could potentially be virtualized. Without security, the healthcare industry stands at the risk of compromising patient care and the financial feasibility of an emerging and promising sector. 

Gearing Up to the New Normal

While tools and technologies of intelligent automation are crucial to innovation in healthcare, the advantage of using AI and cloud computing to monitor clinical trials, individual patient outcomes, detect adverse reactions, and receive real-time alerts of global vaccination programs is set departure from traditional healthcare practices is second to none. It is only a matter of time before the use of cloud computing and associated new-age technologies become commonplace and a starting point for medical practitioners rather than a force multiplier in the global healthcare industry.  

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