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Jul 21, 2017,  by Allianz Partners Business Insights

Connected health: Technology comes to the rescue in rural areas of India

By combining artificial intelligence with connected objects, some countries hope to combat the dangers of living in a medical wasteland, a situation that a large part of its population must face. India, for example, has nearly 1.3 billion inhabitants but only 263,000 doctors practise outside of the country's most densely-populated areas. 


Despite its high population, India only has a limited number of doctors, which means that its medical services are severely lacking, especially in the country's rural areas. While the country is struggling to deal with this dearth of health professionals, the number of high-speed internet connections and smartphones is on the rise.

Using connected objects and artificial intelligence (AI), this exponential growth could help Indians who live in remote areas to solve or at least relieve the problems experienced due to a lack of medical services.


263,000 doctors for all rural and peri-urban areas


Though there are nearly a million practising doctors in India, the population has reached 1,28 billion individuals, and therefore potential patients. On average, there is one doctor for 100 inhabitants, but there are stark geographical disparities.

73% of these health professionals cater for a third of the country's urban residents, says the Economic Times. This leaves only 263,000 doctors for all of its rural areas and the areas around its large cities. 


900 million smartphones in India


At the same time, specialists estimate that there are 900 million mobile telephones with internet access in the country. Furthermore, in 2008, there were more connected terminals than inhabitants on planet Earth! And between now and 2020, there are expected to be 50 million connected or intelligent objects of all types. This is a real asset at a time when the authorities are looking for ways to improve healthcare in isolated regions of India.

This type of equipment and connected devices could make it possible to roll out latest-generation online solutions to improve care and prevention in areas where a doctor's physical intervention is impossible or very difficult.

The use of intelligent devices along with AI could enable doctors to make diagnoses remotely, based on the highly-accurate data transmitted by a connected watch or other automatic devices. Treatment, responding to emergency situations and monitoring illnesses would be made easier, as would the lives of the patients concerned.


A fast-growing market


The stakeholders in the health-related high-tech industry have spotted this and have already established a place for themselves in these highly buoyant markets. The health-related artificial intelligence market is set to go from 667 million dollars in 2016 to 8 billion in 2022. As for the connected health device market, it is expected to reach 72 billion dollars in 2021, compared with 22.5 billion five years previously.

A severe lack of medical services can only be combatted using new technologies if certain conditions are fulfilled. The Indian authorities must ensure that the diagnosis methods and treatments rolled out are compatible with the care facilities present in the rural areas, and must ensure that they are affordable for these medical centres. 


Equipment that is easy to maintain, transportable and affordable


The equipment should be as straightforward and cheap to maintain as possible while being easily transportable to remote areas. Finally, to guarantee quick and effective care in the event of a serious illness, a sufficient number of general practitioners and specialists must be on call remotely, even if the experts then rely on AI to analyse the information and make precise and potentially life-saving diagnoses.


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