3 Ways Artificial Intelligence Is Transforming Healthcare (Part 3)

September 9, 2019 - 7 minutes read

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Welcome to the third part of our series focusing on the countless ways that artificial intelligence (AI) is revolutionizing medicine. In our previous article, we discussed how AI is impacting electronic health records (EHRs), how it can leverage EHRs as risk predictors, and how it’s helping to assess the risks of antibiotic resistance. In case you missed it, you can read it here.

In this article, we’ll cover how AI is enhancing medical devices, wearables, and even making it possible to use selfies as diagnostic tools.

Smart Medical Machines and Devices

Intelligent medical devices are used to monitor patients’ health and stability in the intensive care unit, the emergency room, and during surgery. With AI, the devices are being augmented to alert doctors faster about risk factors, abnormalities in recorded data, or complications after invasive surgery.

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Dr. Mark Michalski, MD, is the executive director at the MGH & BWH Center for Clinical Data Science in Boston. He says that AI is truly the best fit for the job. “When we’re talking about integrating disparate data from across the healthcare system, integrating it, and generating an alert that would alert an ICU doctor to intervene early on – the aggregation of that data is not something that a human can do very well.”

Boosting an AI system with more advanced algorithms can add more power to its ability to monitor patients and their conditions while reducing cognitive load for providers, supply and medication budgets for hospitals, and billing amounts for insurance companies.

Wearables Help Patients and Providers

The consumer market for wearables and smartphone health apps is booming. The options are endless, and data is generated on the go, all day, for a multitude of data points. With all of this data, a standard data dashboard can get boring for the patient really quickly. But personalized recommendations, updates sent to the provider, and encouragement from AI can improve the data analytics in wearables.

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And AI excels when it’s fed tons of data. Using data across multiple patients to find a pattern can uncover insights into population health. It would allow AI to compare healthcare populations across locations and socioeconomic backgrounds.

Often, the major cause of concern for patients is data privacy. Because wearables monitor patients around the clock, there isn’t much the patient has control over. Dr. Omar Arnaout, MD, says that because of the Cambridge Analytica data privacy scandal with Facebook, society is not as lenient with data privacy as it used to be. Now, he says, patients are more careful about what types and who they share their data with.

On the other hand, he says, patients trust their providers more than companies like Facebook. “There’s a very good chance [wearable data will have a major impact] because our care is very episodic and the data we collect is very coarse. By collecting granular data in a continuous fashion, there’s a greater likelihood that the data will help us take better care of patients.”

Selfies as Diagnostic Tools

As smartphone cameras become more robust and powerful, many medical experts and AI developers believe that selfies hold a treasure trove of information waiting to be mined for insights. Some fields already using selfies as supplemental data include dermatology and ophthalmology. These images will be especially important for populations in underserved areas and in developing countries.

Hadi Shafiee, Ph.D., says that smartphone selfies introduce a lot of potential for providers. “This is a great opportunity for us. Almost every major player in the industry has started to build AI software and hardware into their devices. That’s not a coincidence.”

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In the U.K., researchers created a tool that finds possible developmental diseases from a photo of a child’s face. The algorithm looks for specific features, like the eyes, jawline, nose, and more. If anything looks abnormal, it could mean the child has a craniofacial abnormality. The tool currently works to identify more than 90 disorders.

In underserved areas without specialized doctors and facilities, photos from larger cities and hospitals of lesions, infections, wounds, medications, and more provide more information to accurately diagnose and help their patient.

Shafiee says that we generate tons of data every day, to the tune of 2.5 million terabytes of data. With smartphones, manufacturers are using that data in conjunction with AI to provide a faster, smarter, and more personalized user experience. “There is something big happening,” says Shafiee, who believe that we can take advantage of smartphone and AI technology to help fix problems at the provider and patient level.

A Healthier Future

AI’s foray into healthcare is going to power new tools, empower doctors and patients, and create greater efficiencies in the healthcare system.

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Because of this technology’s ability to self-optimize over time, any health application leveraging it will only continue to improve. Our diagnostics, care, treatments, and outcomes will become cheaper, faster, and safer. Everyone wins with AI in healthcare.

What’s your favorite wearable right now? How does it leverage AI’s capabilities? And what do you think about the potential of selfies to improve diagnoses? Let us know in the comments below!

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