AI in Healthcare: The Opportunities & Challenges Ahead — Part 1

October 3, 2019 - 7 minutes read

In the complex world of healthcare, artificial intelligence (AI) has limitless potential. In this post, we’ll explore the opportunities, benefits, and improvements that AI brings to the medical field.

A Natural Aid

Elaborate disease presentation, too much healthcare data to process, and an ongoing battle between patients and health insurance name just a few of the immense problems plaguing healthcare at the moment. Each of these issues is sizeable on its own, so the thought of implementing a solution can feel overwhelming. Fortunately, AI offers an array of possibilities for tackling each one.

The technology is undoubtedly valuable and flexible. It enables doctors to identify x-rays more accurately, helps office staff categorize conditions and prescriptions better, and it can even provide a safer patient experience. Doctors are already using it for help with remote surgery, finding and diagnosing diseases faster via pattern recognition and predictive analytics, and attending to underserved patient populations.

AI can even help find the perfect patients for clinical trials or the right combination for a new drug. There’s no doubt that AI will be an integral part of the future of healthcare. But health tech developers don’t have to wait around to see results; incorporating AI into their health applications and devices can vastly improve their capabilities and performance.

Building More Accessibility Into Healthcare

Countries lacking proper, modern, and robust healthcare infrastructure create challenges for their patient populations. Even in the United States, there could be almost a hundred miles to the nearest hospital. In these types of remote regions, patients often become forced to resign to poor, outdated medical care.

In this case, using AI could mean reaching patients digitally with video calls for doctors, better communication lines with the ambulance and hospital, and apps about navigating symptoms. For example, Ada, a mobile AI application, asks you about your symptoms to give you a few possibilities on what could be ailing you. It’ll check up on your symptoms periodically, and even warn you to visit a doctor if you think it’s a severe problem. It keeps a medical history for you, so it’s easy to share dates and times with your physician.

For many patients in underserved and rural areas, Ada is solving problems for doctors before the patient even calls for an appointment. AI applications like Ada are offering advice for free and in foreign languages for optimal impact.

Finding and Predicting Diseases

One of AI’s biggest draws is that it can look holistically at an entire population of patients to find patterns and predictions in their medical data. It can help diagnose diseases before they become more serious.

South San Francisco-based Verily is a company tackling predictive analytics in ailments like heart attacks, cancer, and inherited diseases. The goal is to predict a number of conditions for a patient so that the physician and patient can work together to create and follow a preventative plan. If needed, a treatment plan can also be drafted up from these predictions.

At the molecular level, AI can look into our biomarkers. Biomarkers are released into our bloodstream with the presence of specific diseases. Using AI, biomarkers are no longer complicated, overwhelming, or pattern-lacking. Recognition algorithms can automate a lot of the manual work that doctors do in identifying and diagnosing a disease. This saves time and results in faster results for patient peace of mind.

Lending a Helping Hand

In operating rooms, AI is helping doctors by becoming an accurate robot arm, fast-acting assistant, and on-site data generator. For rare conditions that physicians don’t receive much practice for, AI is a great stepping stone to faster, more accurate, and newer knowledge. According to the Mayo Clinic, complicated and complex operations offer precision, less pain and blood loss, minimal side effects, and quicker recovery times.

In the heat of the surgery, the AI can perform visual scans of the patient at a constant interval, from brain scans to MRI scans and other imaging. This gives the doctors more information during and after the surgery. And better yet, it provides future surgeons with hard numbers to learn from.

Innovating With Care

While AI undoubtedly brings a plethora of benefits to the table for medical providers and patients, integrating it into our healthcare system slowly is necessary. Going too fast with these improvements could lead to severe oversight of glaringly obvious problems. Above all, it could put patients’ lives at risk.

Besides the life-or-death risks of AI, patients still aren’t convinced that AI could help them reduce time, effort, and money spent on finding and receiving healthcare services. According to Accenture, 25% of patients surveyed said they wouldn’t use a health service if it were AI-powered.

In addition to educating patients, doctors and providers should learn more about AI technology, algorithms, bias risks, and cybersecurity concerns. No provider should place 100% trust into an AI algorithm, but it is a fine line to tread. Clinical trials, in-depth and peer-reviewed research, and statistical validation should still drive AI technology and the opinions of providers.

In the not-too-distant future, AI will be working alongside doctors. But in the far-flung future, doctors will still be needed to maintain the integrity of AI algorithms. Stay tuned for a follow-up post in which we’ll examine some of the biggest challenges that AI-enabled healthcare presents.

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