What you need to know about artificial intelligence in healthcare

By Jessica Beard on September 5th, 2017

When you first think about the term artificial intelligence (AI), your mind might automatically think of robots replacing humans and movies like Transcendence and A.I. Artificial Intelligence. Usually these scenarios end in some sort of disaster or world-wide catastrophe, leaving us to feel like we are just not ready for this type of advanced technology.

Yet in reality, AI is right at our fingertips – especially in healthcare. Robots – or virtual assistants as they are often called – are certainly part of the evolution; they are just one part of what’s already underway.

For example, you may have heard of IBM Watson, a multibillion-dollar AI initiative to empower healthcare providers and transform health. Their latest effort brings cancer care to everyday Americans who may not have access to the specialty cancer care they need.

Then there’s Ada, a London and Berlin-based startup, who created a personal health companion and telemedicine app to help patients make more informed decisions about their health. It’s all powered by an AI engine combined with vast medical knowledge of thousands of conditions, symptoms and other research findings.

These are just a few examples of AI’s popularity in healthcare. In fact, the KPCB 2017 trends report found healthcare as a sector ripe with opportunity due to a number of technologies in the market, causing the industry to hit a “digital inflection point.”

This is all sounds great, but what does this actually mean to us? Here are the top things you need to know about AI:

  • AI helps support physicians. Think virtual assistants that assimilate, analyze and share massive amounts of data (and there’s no shortage of data in healthcare). This means clinical benefits, such as real-time and ongoing support of recommendations for diagnosis and treatment, and administrative support. Technologist and investor, Vinod Khosla, stated that 80 percent of what human physicians currently do will soon be done instead by technology – in reference to AI – allowing physicians to focus their time on the really important elements of patient-physician interaction. With the help of AI, physicians will be able to treat more patients.
  • AI can help keep patients healthy and living independently. Health maintenance is critical to decreasing readmissions rates and unnecessary ED visits. Digital health has already opened up much opportunity in this area to date. AI takes things a step further: virtual assistants can help better manage deep knowledge of a patient’s diet, exercise, medications, emotional and mental state, etc. This machine learning process adapts to patterns and “gets to know” the patient to activate sensors when things are awry, often acting as a companion to patients. What’s more, AI can bring medical devices – such as mobile pads to monitor heart rhythm and the ability to monitor urine samples – from the hospital to the home for independent living. Robots can also help with household tasks so that people are able to live longer in the comfort of their own homes.
  • AI helps keep cost down in a value-based care world. Healthcare is hyper-focused on providing the best quality care at the lowest cost, propelling the need for advanced technology across healthcare and life sciences. So much so, that AI in healthcare is expected to grow more than 10 times in the next five years at a compounded rate of over 40 percent, reaching $6.6 billion with $150 billion in savings opportunities. Currently, healthcare and life sciences are starting to use AI in a number of ways – from robot-assisted surgery and clinical trials to clinical diagnosis and treatment options and precision medicine. It’s also used to codify workflows and enable self-learning for provider data management, claims approvals and fraud detection.

AI is truly in its infancy. While there will always be skeptics, it opens up a world of opportunity to increase operational efficiencies and improve patient health. Let’s see where AI takes us!

What are your thoughts on AI – believe in it or not?

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