Health and Healthcare Systems

How game-changing tech is transforming cancer care in India

India's FIRST Cancer Care initiative aims to drive early cancer diagnosis and treatment.

India's FIRST Cancer Care initiative aims to drive early cancer diagnosis and treatment. Image: Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

Satyanarayana Jeedigunta
Chief Advisor, Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution India, World Economic Forum
Sunita Nadhamuni
Head, Global Social Innovation, Dell Technologies
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  • India’s cancer rates are rising and projected to reach 1.57 million cases by 2025, up from 1.39 million in 2020.
  • India has launched an innovative cancer care initiative to accelerate technology-driven healthcare solutions for the world’s second-largest population.
  • The initiative could provide the lessons to transform cancer care worldwide.

In a new World Economic Forum white paper, the Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, India lays out plans for an innovative FIRST Cancer Care (FCC) initiative. The Fourth Industrial Revolution envisages new ways in which frontier technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI), Internet of things (IoT) and blockchain, become embedded within societies and our everyday lives.

18 themes of FIRST Cancer Care
18 themes of FIRST Cancer Care Image: World Economic Forum white paper - FIRST Cancer Care: Leveraging Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies for cancer care

Closing the cancer care gap

The FCC initiative addresses the formidable challenge of India’s rising cancer rates, projected to reach 1.57 million cases by 2025, up from 1.39 million in 2020, according to the 2020 ICMR Report of National Cancer Registry Program. India’s cancer burden is compounded by socioeconomic disparities and fragmented care provisions. With a population spanning dense urban and rural areas, delays in diagnosis and treatment are common, especially for patients who are forced to travel long distances for appropriate oncology care.

The FCC report is a digital roadmap designed to comprehensively address preventive and curative cancer management and deliver care that is of higher quality, more timely and precise, in an equitable manner across India.

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Improving efficiencies in cancer care

The process followed to develop the report was inclusive and broad. It began by identifying critical gaps in current care, such as inadequacies in early diagnosis, skill development, financing, governance and data interoperability. It then went on to look at solutions for these across all layers of India’s healthcare system. It was developed over six months of intense deliberations, harmonising diverse viewpoints through a multi-stakeholder collaboration of public-private sector healthcare professionals, civil society, policymakers, technology enterprises, start-ups, clinicians and academics.

FCC envisages practical solutions for reshaping how millions of patients are treated and for improving efficiencies in cancer care. The recommendations are laid out in three Cancer Care Value Pathways: Population Health, Capacity Building and Data Pathways. A value pathway is an independently implementable segment of the cancer care value chain, comprising digital and physical processes for a continuum of care.

Game-changing tech fuels Cancer Care Pathways

New technological capabilities proposed in the Population Health Pathway could mean earlier cancer diagnosis and lower cancer morbidity and mortality rates. Using digital tools to support screening will give millions the opportunity for early detection and treatment, leading to better health outcomes.

The Capacity Building Pathway, which adopts a blended-learning model, is expected to empower professionals and health workers with knowledge and lead to better, faster diagnoses and a reduced referral period using tele-technologies for remote care.

The Data Pathway, named the Oncology Data Model, specifies standards and norms for all aspects of cancer data - from data capture to privacy protection to interoperability and standards in alignment with India’s Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission (ABDM). The ABDM aims to strengthen the country’s digital health infrastructure and ensure seamless interoperability of health data across public and private sector facilities throughout the patient journey.

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Technology for the Population Health Pathway

Technology is now integral to India’s health programs, such as the Population-Based Screening and Management of Non-Communicable Diseases (PBS NCD) program. The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India partnered with Dell Technologies and Tata Trusts on the NCD IT system for the management of hypertension and diabetes and oral, breast and cervical cancers.

Leveraging Dell Technologies’ Digital LifeCare platform, the NCD IT system is a prime example of a Population Health pathway solution. It is being used extensively for screening, diagnosis and treatment through referral and follow-up pathways. More than 135 million users in 33 states have enrolled in the NCD system and more than 94,000 health professionals are trained in its use with support from Tata Trusts, as of Jan 31 2022. This is just one promising example of how technology can reshape healthcare for patients, care providers and policymakers.

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Piloting the way to tech success

A two-year pilot is being rolled out by the Government of Meghalaya State in India in association with the Central Health Ministry in East Khasi Hills district. The pilot covers oral, breast, cervical, oesophagal and lung cancers and uses innovations across the three cancer value pathways. The key outputs of FCC, namely, rich content for capacity building and the Oncology Data Model, are being designed and developed as Digital Public Goods for replication across other geographies.

The key learnings of the pilot should enable FCC to be scaled throughout India, sparking a digital transformation for patients and providers across the country’s cancer care ecosystem. This FIRST Cancer Care initiative to accelerate technology-driven solutions for the world’s second-largest population could transform the global cancer care landscape. A model for leaders worldwide seeking to harness Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies for their own citizens, FCC seeks to reaffirm the strategy of 'Solve for India. Solve for the world.'

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Related topics:
Health and Healthcare SystemsFourth Industrial RevolutionEmerging Technologies
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