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MantraTalks Podcast with Parag Sharma: Delivering Digital-first Health Experiences for Patient Care in the New Normal

6 minutes read

The healthcare industry took the brunt of the Covid-19 pandemic from the very beginning. It was, and still is, a humongous task for hospitals to deal with the rising number of COVID patients as well as handling the regular consults. 

To delve deeper into the state of healthcare in the COVID times, we interviewed Parag Sharma, CEO, Mantra Labs Pvt Ltd. Parag shares his insights on how technology can help in delivering digital-first health experiences for patient care in the New Normal.

Parag is a product enthusiast and tinkerer at heart and has been at the forefront of developing innovative products especially in the field of AI. He also holds over ten years of experience working in the services line and has been instrumental in launching several startups in the Internet & Mobile space. His rich domain expertise and innovative leadership have helped Mantra climb to the top 100 innovative InsurTechs in the World – selected by FinTech Global. 

Catch the interview:  

Connect with Parag- LinkedIn

COVID-19 and Its impact on Healthcare Organizations

Considering the COVID situation, according to you how has COVID-19 impacted the IT & service operations among healthcare organizations?

Parag:  Since the onset of COVID-19, the healthcare sector has been deeply impacted. Institutions are facing a serious crunch in manpower. IT support systems which were usually manned and managed by a large team of IT professionals are not available in the same strength. Resource allocation’ is one of the biggest concerns due to physical and mental exhaustion of the healthcare workforce. 

Hospitals are facing issues such as operational disruption due to staff quarantine, supply-chain delays and sudden decline in patient footfalls, difficulty in sustaining fixed costs, etc. People are not comfortable getting out of the safety confinements of their homes due to the rising risk of getting infected with the virus. Hospitals will have to reassess their future strategy and budgets in light of the uncertain economic situation.

Preparing for the Future

What can hospitals do to ensure the continuity of their customer-facing operations in the wake of a second Pandemic wave?

Parag: There are many things that hospitals can do to manage themselves in this hour of crisis. Being more digital than what they are would be one step forward for all of them. They can bring their IT systems to the cloud so that the person can access data and manage their work remotely. They can enable their patients to book appointments and enquire about services through apps and chatbots which won’t require them to call the reception or come to the hospital. These are some of the services which hospitals can provide to their customers with minimum physical contact. 

Related: Manipal Hospital’s move to a self-service healthcare mobile application

Hospitals can extend Telehealth services to their patients. Recently, telehealth has proved to be useful especially when there is asymmetry between the number of patients and healthcare providers. I think it will be very useful for healthcare institutions to deploy telehealth solutions to provide medical facilities to people who have so far been outside the benefits of healthcare.

New Expectations in Health Experiences

Is consumer behavior defined by the ‘new normal’ going to change the way we access healthcare from this point on?

Parag: Yes, people will expect a completely different way to access healthcare services from now on. Hospitals should gear-up and rise to this occasion. The pandemic has also provided a new opportunity to adopt a completely different approach in the way healthcare is delivered. They always felt that medical care cannot be provided remotely but now this is happening and people are appreciating remote healthcare services. Hospitals and healthcare institutions are convinced that telehealth and remote care will be more successful soon.

Technology in Healthcare can Bridge Operational Gaps

What are the operational challenges, as far as digital capabilities go, that hospitals are facing currently? And, what steps must they take to bridge these gaps?

Parag: Operational challenges are not just digital challenges. But a lot of these challenges can be addressed with technology. For example, Electronic Health Records which hospitals manage within the premises can be moved to the cloud so that the person can access these records on the cloud itself and need not come to the hospital. 

Related: Medical Image Management: DICOM Images Sharing Process

Secondly, if you deploy telehealth and telemedicine solutions, irrespective of where your patients are or doctors are, hospitals can deliver the required care to its patients. You can even extend your diagnostics services to your patients by giving them an application through which they can seamlessly book appointments for consults, diagnostics, or pathological services and resolve their queries, etc. Simply by giving a seamless interface either through bots or applications can go a long way in providing better health experiences to the customers.

Role of Chatbots in Superior Customer Experiences

According to you, what role does chatbots powered by Artificial Intelligence have in the Healthcare CX landscape?

Parag: Chatbots are the simplest example of the implementation of AI-based technology in healthcare. There are a lot of things which bots can do simplistically. For example, if a patient wants to book an appointment with the doctors, instead of going through a complex web applications and interfaces, what if I can simply write “I want to book an appointment with the doctor Dr. XYZ at 4 pm” and the bot can figure out in case the time slot is available with that particular doctor, it will confirm the appointment followed by a payment process if the payment has to be made upfront. 

Apart from this, you can extend your bots to provide e-consultations where doctors can do remote consultations via audio and video features of a chatbot. So there is a huge scope for bots beyond answering routine queries by customers or booking appointments. It does not stop just there. You can extend chatbot functionalities to support functions such as admin, HR, finance, and business process efficiency so that they can provide better services to their customers.

Related: Healthcare Chatbots: Innovative, Efficient, and Low-cost Care

Chatbot Use Cases in Healthcare

Could you tell us some possible bot use cases for delivering better customer experiences to digital health users?

Parag: Apart from booking appointments and resolving customer queries, these bots can conduct remote consultations, internal processes, health symptom checker, out-patient video consultation, second opinion consultation, ordering medicines, psychological counseling & mental wellness, scenario-based risk advice, Heroism Recognition for employees, etc. Also, it can be further extended to help patients enquire about health insurance related queries, and all the interactions between insurance companies and hospitals can be provided to the patient. 

Related: Healthcare & Hospitals Use Cases | Digital Health

The Road Ahead

COVID-19 has forced hospitals to revise patient support strategy with limited operational staff that is bringing every day a new challenge. A way out is to heavily rely on digital innovation.

In India we have a disparity between the no. of healthcare providers and care seekers. Without technology, I don’t think there is any way healthcare institutions will be able to scale to a level where they can provide meaningful services to such a large number of people. Hospitals can invest in setting up an information exchange; making the process as seamless as possible; and removing all possible inefficiencies from the supply chain through technology.

Future growth for hospitals will come from digital technology because patients will opt more for digital platforms. And it is up to hospitals to catch up with the pace at which modern technology is developing. We, at Mantra Labs, have achieved several use cases including hospitals/diagnostic centers that are able to deliver superior health experiences.

Check out the webinar on ‘Digital Health Beyond COVID-19: Bringing the Hospital to the Customer’ on our YouTube channel

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Apple WWDC 2021, Facebook f8, Microsoft Build: What’s in it for Developers and Consumers this year

14 minutes read

Apple WWDC 2021 is the second all-virtual conference hosted by the company this year, one that will see both hardware announcements and software updates. WWDC 2021, which begins June 7 with the traditional Apple keynote will run the whole week long and will contain pavilions, daily recaps available to revisit, and more in this free-for-all developers virtual meet. 

WWDC 2021 is bringing big changes to iOS 15 and iPad OS 15, along with a new more powerful M2 chip and a redesigned MacBook Pro that gets rid of its maligned features like the Touch Bar, to re-introduce the HDMI port and MagSafe. 

Apple CEO Tim Cook began the keynote address welcoming “familiar” faces back again in the audience, virtual avatars aka Memoji instead of real people, given the ongoing pandemic. 

ALSO READ: Google I/O 2021: What’s in it for Developers and Consumers this Year

Here’s everything we noticed at the Apple WWDC 2021 keynote: 

iOS 15 

The new iOS update will come with a series of improvements including a better Facetime experience. FaceTime will now include features like Spatial Audio making calls more comfortable and natural, like you and the person on the other end are in the same room. The mic gets a Voice Isolation update, which, through the use of Machine Learning will block ambient noise and prioritize your voice. Another noticeable update is Wide Spectrum, to capture your voice and everything around you.  

The software update also introduces Portrait mode to blur backgrounds, and a grid view to enable multi-conversations with a highlighted tile to know who the speaker is. Users can also schedule individual FaceTime calls with Facetime links, similar to Zoom. Additionally, users can share their screen, music, TV show, or movie through a new feature called ShareTime, to enable a Watch Party of their own. FaceTime will, with this update, be supported on Android and Windows through a web browser.

iMessage, the messaging platform, available only on Apple devices, will now come with features that group similar images into galleries. A brand-new feature called “shared with you” will save links that people sent you and collects them in one place. It works across Safari, Apple Music, Apple TV, and Apple Podcasts.

ALSO READ: Here’s what a tech-enabled world will look like for future pandemic phases

Notifications will now have an updated design on the lock screen, featuring a clearer look. Titled the Focus feature, users can choose to go on Do Not Disturb mode or choose Work, Life hours to be able to receive notifications depending on their preferences, much like the OnePlus Zen Mode and Work-Life Balance feature that came with the OnePlus 7 series in 2019. 

Live Text, a new camera feature, will automatically identify and scan text or visuals in photographs. Another feature called Memories will use Machine Learning and AI to combine photos into galleries and add music from Apple Music. 

Apple Maps software is also updated with 3D data with this release. It now includes lanes, clearer city details, AR-led detailed directions, and more. The Weather app gets an interactive update where data and layout will change according to weather conditions. 

A new feature is also coming to AirPods called “conversation boost” which will help people better understand who they are talking to in real-time. Siri will be able to announce messages and read out your shopping list as well. Apple Wallet adds a new functionality which now includes corporate badges.

Quicknote is a fast and easy way to get to a note saved for later, while also allowing a user to jot notes using the Apple Pencil. Consumers can now add tags to organize their notes better and even mention others in shared notes.  

With iPadOS 15, Apple is adding features for multi-tasking, bringing widgets and app library to the iPad as well. Apple has also announced an iCloud+ subscription service with a focus on privacy. 

Privacy and Security: 

New privacy features, and a subscription-based iCloud+ was also announced at the keynote. Apple is now adding new privacy features across its devices. The Mail App, for instance, will have a feature called tracker-blockers to hide your IP address, location and other information that help building a digital personality for third-party apps. An App Tracker Report section in the Settings will allow users to see how often apps have used their info in the last seven days.

iCloud+ will also include a key feature called Private Relay, which essentially helps route web traffic through two separate servers, just like VPN.

Siri, on the other hand, has some new features including availability on third-party apps, and users can also request tasks from the Voice Assistant without an active internet connection. 

Speaking of legacy contacts, Apple has introduced a Digital Legacy Program that will help your trusted contacts to manage your account, close them et al, even when you’re no longer around. 

Digital Health: 

The latest Apple Watch software allows more interaction possibilities while also connecting health trackers that monitors everything from your gait to the sleep patterns via the Breathe app called Mindfulness and let’s you know as soon as it finds something out of the ordinary which can be addressed promptly. This is possible through Apple’s collaboration with a few electronic health record companies. If you’re away from your loved ones, the new software allows you to share health data too. 

New watch faces on Watch OS8 are available in Portrait mode and one also has the ability to write a text with their finger to send a text message. 

ALSO READ: What will ‘Behavioural Changes’ Mean for India’s Digital Health Future

Additionally, in the Workouts app, new workout types including TaiChi and Pilates have been added guided by popular names such as Jeanette Jenkins as well as a new Artist Spotlight series that offers workouts on the music of Lady Gaga, Keith Urban, and more.

macOS Monterey: 

At the WWDC 2021 keynote address last night, Apple announced a new version of macOS. Titled Monterey, after the pristine beach town in California’s central coast, the new macOS brings a number of features including multiple screen-usage while using the same mouse and keyboard across a Mac or an iPad. This feature is called Universal Control. 

iOS devices can (for the first time) beam their screen to a Mac, thanks to AirPlay. The Safari web browser has also got a redesign with new and improved features including tab grouping and tab bookmarking. 

What piqued your interest the most at this year’s Apple WWDC? Facebook f8, held earlier this month also had a few interesting announcements. Take a look. 

WIIFM at Facebook f8? 

Facebook f8, held on June 2 this year kicked off with a promise that Facebook was returning to its roots and focusing on the developer community for this year’s virtual event. 

“This year we are refocusing F8 on developers,” Mark Zuckerberg said. “Some of the most important services in the world started when someone looked at an existing issue, and just found a better way to build. And I’m optimistic that some of the next generation of services are going to start right here with you.”  

On the business messaging front, Facebook announced that its Messenger API for Instagram is available to all developers. The social media giant is also testing a way for people to opt into messaging with businesses through a new feature called Login Connect with Messenger. 

Through WhatsApp Business API, it’s now easier for businesses to get started with using the tool effectively for their businesses. Among its key updates, Facebook said it has reduced the entire API onboarding process from weeks to five minutes. The company also announced new WhatsApp messaging features with an aim to give people a quicker way to make a selection when interacting with a business’s chatbot on WhatsApp. 

Augmented Reality, AI and Machine Learning: 

Facebook’s development of its futuristic augmented reality glasses is still ongoing, but the company has exhibited broad ambitions in terms of its AR experiences built on its SparkAR software. In the near future, Facebook has said that it wants to make it easier for developers to build augmented reality effects for group calls via its new Multipeer API.  

The SparkAR platform now has 600,000 creators in 190 countries, with 2 million AR filters and effects created to date, according to Facebook. 

PyTorch, the deep learning framework co-developed by Facebook in 2016, is now becoming the default framework for building all its AI and machine learning models in the foreseeable future. 

“PyTorch not only makes our research and engineering work more effective, collaborative, and efficient, it also allows us to share our work as open-source PyTorch libraries and learn from the advances made by the thousands of PyTorch developers all over the world,” Facebook said in a blog post. 

Missed Microsoft Build? Here are key highlights tailor-made for you: 

Microsoft Build, also a developer conference, was also held virtually this year from May 25 to 27. 

Following his keynote address, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella wrote on a LinkedIn post, “As computing becomes embedded in every aspect of our lives, there will be no longer such thing as the tech sector. The world will be transformed through tech intensity at scale. Every organization will need to not only adopt the latest technology, but more importantly, build their own unique digital technology, or be left behind.”

“We are building the platform for platform creators. It’s not about setting new rules or constraints that dictate how or what you should build. It’s not even about celebrating our own innovation. It’s about enabling your innovation and creating new opportunities for you,” he continued. 

From Microsoft Teams that allows users to complete projects from any location and at any time without needing to switch across different apps and data, to Windows Updates providing GUI support on Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL), it will also allow seamless integrations with other workflows with Linux, GUI apps, and GPU-accelerated ML training.

In terms of privacy and security, Microsoft announced the integration of its Azure Security Center with GitHub. This integration will further enhance collaboration between the development and security teams. Interestingly, this collaborative effort will feature an update to enable security teams to be aware of the holistic development life-cycle instead of trying and fixing bugs only once the software is released. This measure will further allow the DevSecOps teams to run vulnerability scans, resolve findings, and visualize the security of workflows within their CI/CD pipeline.

The company also announced key updates to its Azure AI services, including Azure Bot Services, Azure Video Analyzer, and more. That’s not all, Microsoft also announced ML capabilities updates to accelerate its AI model deployment, namely Azure Machine Learning Managed Endpoints and Power Fx.

Automatic Aggregations was yet another feature that debuted at MS Build this year. Power BI dataflows that suitably handle streaming data sources, starting with Azure Event Hubs and Azure IoT Hubs, promises to make streaming data and real-time analytics accessible. 

Microsoft also introduced a low-code programming tool that allows users to write code without any prior coding knowledge. Called Power App Ideas, is the first-of-its-kind collaborative effort between Microsoft and artificial intelligence (AI) research company OpenAI. The app uses OpenAI’s Generative Pre-Trained Transformer-3 (GPT-3) AI model, among one of the highly advanced natural language AI models in the world today. 

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