Elekta Uses AI to Support Healthcare in Rural Communities

Anish Patankar, SVP & GM of Oncology Software for Elekta, shares how technology is helping rural health clinics catch up to their urban counterparts

Growing up in a family of doctors, healthcare was central to Anish Patankar’s upbringing. After moving from India to the US, he shifted his focus to computer science, earning a master’s from the University at Buffalo, New York. His career began in medical imaging, and he has since worked with healthcare technology firms including Philips Healthcare, Siemens, Varian, GE and Elekta.

In his current role as Senior Vice President & General Manager of Oncology Software at Elekta, he guides the delivery of personalised oncology patient treatment solutions, considering clinical history, ethnicity, genotype-phenotype, background and socioeconomic factors. At Elekta, the focus is on tailoring treatments to individual needs and providing software and tools that enhance clinicians' productivity, allowing more time for patient care.

Anish sat down with Healthcare Digital to share how technology is helping rural health clinics catch up to their urban counterparts.

How do cloud-based solutions address health disparities and higher mortality rates rural Americans face?

There’s a critical need for improved healthcare technology in rural America, home to 46 million Americans. Research shows they are more likely to die from heart disease, cancer, respiratory disease, etc. than their urban counterparts. Geography presents a significant barrier to care. Patients often have to drive long distances to access medical care, often preventing doctor visits and leading to missed or late diagnoses. Financial constraints such as travel expenses, lost time from work, childcare or being uninsured further exacerbate care inequities. 

By adopting cloud-based informatics software, clinics can provide patients with remote access to care teams that evaluate symptom severity and prevent needless travel. Patient care dashboards give treatment providers a 360-degree view of their patient’s health, facilitating collaboration across locations and streamlining the treatment process.

How are cloud-based technologies, particularly AI and EHRs, being utilised in rural healthcare settings, and what impact have they had?

Cloud-based AI and EHR technologies help clinics keep pace with rapidly changing technology—and do more for their patients—narrowing the disparity in healthcare quality between rural and urban areas. With increased access to advanced and tailored solutions, clinics can operate with fewer resources and less staff. From a clinical perspective, disease-specific software allows physicians to address unique patient needs and care requirements, enhancing the value of cloud-based technologies. For example, oncology-specific solutions connect patients with their personal care team 24/7 and can minimise patient visits by administering larger radiation doses less frequently, a practice known as hypo fractionation. This is not something a generic enterprise-grade EHR will allow them to provide.

What challenges do rural healthcare providers face in adopting Silicon Valley-grade technology, and how can they be overcome?

Software innovation moves at a rapid pace. It’s hard for rural healthcare providers to rapidly adopt technology advancements due to the need for sophisticated hosting capabilities, specialised IT talent, and stringent security measures to protect patient data. Overcoming these issues involves outsourcing critical IT functions to specialised vendors. This strategy reduces the burden on rural healthcare IT departments, allows for scalable services according to patient needs, controls costs, and enables providers to focus on patient care without the complexities of technology management.

What excites you the most about where we are with cloud-based software in rural healthcare?

There's been a lot of hype and promise, but we’ve reached a point where we can deliver effective operational and clinical care improvements through cloud-based software. The advancements in AI, especially generative AI, enable clinics to staff more efficiently, cut operational costs, automate routine tasks, and, most importantly, mine and disseminate clinical knowledge to clinicians and patients efficiently. This marks an inflection point where cost and accessibility are no longer barriers, ensuring equal access to advanced AI tools for our rural customers.

Looking at the next five to ten years, what do you predict the role of cloud-based technologies will be in rural healthcare? Do you think we'll see more adoption?

I think there is no other way. The innovation capabilities of cloud technology, especially in areas like generative AI, necessitate cloud-based solutions due to complexity and resource demands. This innovation is seen as vital for delivering and deploying software in the future. Moreover, adopting cloud technologies in rural healthcare is considered increasingly important due to their ability to alleviate healthcare providers' burden of security, compliance, and technology management. Cloud solutions offer a way to manage these complexities, making them particularly beneficial for rural healthcare setups where resources may be limited.

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