By Marina Turea / Contributor
In 2020, Artificial intelligence (AI) is changing the way we live and work every day. As technology continues to develop and more industries figure out how to harness its power, it will only continue to grow and have an even greater effect. One industry that has already figured out numerous uses for AI is the healthcare industry. Computer systems that can process incredible amounts of data and help make decisions like human beings are uniquely suited to help this industry immensely. Here are 5 ways artificial intelligence is changing healthcare.
1. Better Diagnosis
Arguably, the most important part of healthcare is the diagnosis. The faster and more accurately medical professionals can be with identifying the correct medical problem, the easier they can address and alleviate the health problem. Until now, the healthcare industry has always relied on the knowledge and education of doctors to diagnose health issues. While this has been good, there are inherent, human problems with this system.
While there is a certain art to diagnosing medical conditions that AI might not have yet, it is mostly crunching the data (symptoms) provided by the patient and ruling things out until you get to the most likely issue. This is where AI excels. In multiple studies, the data shows that AI already can do almost as good a job to a better job in some cases in diagnosing patients.
This is a huge innovation for two reasons. One is that there is a chance for diagnosis with AI to one day be more accurate than human diagnosis. This will help prevent misdiagnoses and improve patient outcomes. The other is that it frees up medical professional’s time to speed up the process by giving them a starting point for diagnosis and treatment without having to ask all the questions themselves. A group of U.S. and Chinese researchers have already started seeing accurate and positive results from a system they created to identify common childhood illnesses.
2. Triage and Telemedicine
One of the reasons that the healthcare industry is so buoyed by AI is that it produces and handles tons of data. While this data is necessary for medical care, it can also get in the way of a medical facility functioning as efficiently as possible. AI’s ability to process data and make decisions is why it is so effective in triage. When data is entered into a system, AI can easily help advise doctors and nurses which cases are the most important and who should be seen first. This takes a lot of guesswork out of the process.
Also, as we are seeing with the current global pandemic, telemedicine is not just the wave of the future, the need for it is happening right now. AI-guided telemedicine consultations are helping this new form of healthcare become a reality. When patients interact online with AI, not only are healthcare professionals freed up to take care of the most immediate needs, but patients may find that their medical issues can be addressed without a physical visit. This saves the patient money and time, reduces the crowding of healthcare facilities, and helps keep everyone safer during times of social distancing.
Drug discovery and clinical trials are two areas of healthcare that have long existed as strictly a process of trial and error. In fact, only 0.1% of all drugs in development ever reach the human testing stage and of those, only a quarter of them will make it to market. With this type of hit rate, it is no wonder each drug costs pharmaceutical companies billions of dollars to develop and get to market.
This is a big reason why top pharma companies and top tech companies are coming together to create better solutions for drug development. They are creating systems that gather, process and use massive amounts of data to create a better starting point for drug creation. This not only saves time and money but will allow the industry to create more effective drugs as well.
Drug development is just one aspect of the industry that is being influenced by AI. According to the Healthcare Weekly staff, “There are 4 main machine learning initiatives within the top 5 pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies ranging from mobile coaching solutions and telemedicine to drug discovery and acquisitions.” Each of these initiatives that are driven by AI will help this industry create better, more efficient drugs for less money and in a quicker timeframe. They will also help improve the patient outcomes from pharmaceutical intervention and help combat some of the more negative issues associated with the industry such as fraud and addiction.
4. Assisted Surgery
Surgery is another medical segment that is already seeing benefits from AI and will continue to improve as processes and technology develop. There are two main ways that AI is assisting in surgery. One is through the better gathering and use of information like many of the other areas on this list while the other is in a more “hands-on” way.
Like other areas of healthcare, AI is collecting and administering more data than ever. AI can take data on medical history and past successful surgeries and help surgeons make better decisions for their patients. These systems can also process data in real-time and give feedback during surgery faster and more accurately than humans ever could.
There is also now the option to have AI robotics help perform surgery. These smart machines can make smaller incisions, be more precise, and reach places that human surgeons have trouble with or simply can’t. In the future, AI robotics may be able to take the human error component out of surgical procedures entirely.
5. Personal Health Aids
The way AI affects healthcare is not limited to inside a hospital, pharmacy, or doctor’s office. AI is changing personal healthcare as well through many different avenues. Personal assistants and smartwatches are helping to monitor, track, report, recommend, and remind people about everything from prescription to diet and exercise, to all sorts of other healthy habits. They also can provide data to medical professionals that will help improve treatment and patient outcomes in the long-term.
In a time where COVID-19 has changed not just the healthcare industry but the entire world, AI will be key to moving forward and getting back to some semblance of “normal” life. A perfect example of this is the International Airport in Hong Kong. They have utilized AI to deploy both cleaning robots and passenger disinfectant booths. These AI-fueled innovations are a big first step in people feeling ok about the health ramifications of mass travel.
These are just a few of the ways that AI is changing the healthcare industry. There are dozens of more ways, both large and small, that AI affects the industry and will continue to play an even larger role going forward. If you are interested in reading and more about artificial intelligence in the healthcare industry and elsewhere, check out this article of the Best Artificial Intelligence Books to Read in 2020. It is a great resource to learn more about this fascinating topic.
Image Credit: Andriy Popov