Robots are coming, but not to replace doctors.

The digital age has opened the floodgates for an influx of new technologies that are transforming many industries from incumbents to innovators. Healthcare has not been left behind. Hospitals, clinics, doctor offices, and industries with ties to healthcare have all been impacted. One of the technologies that are impacting the healthcare industry in a positive, substantial way is artificial intelligence.

  • What is artificial intellgience?
  • How is artificial intelligence used in healthcare?
  • Pros and cons of artificial intelligence in healthcare
  • The future of artificial intelligence in healthcare

Read on to learn more.

What is artificial intelligence?

Artificial intelligence (AI) is a branch of computer science that concentrates on the creation of smart machines that have the ability to work and react like humans. AI executes tasks that customarily require human intelligence.

Many people consider AI to be a product of the 21st century. However, the vision for this cutting-edge technology has much earlier roots, dating back to mid 20th century. The first vision of futuristic technology was set out by Vannevar Bush in a 1945 Atlantic Magazine Article entitled “As We May Think.” Bush predicted several wonders, including a machine able to quickly process data to bring up people with particular traits or find requested images.

AI has made great strides since it was first predicted. Today, we have all kinds of intelligent devices, many of which can be activated by voice alone and give intelligent responses to our questions. Narrow artificial intelligence, for instance, is all around us and it’s simply the most successful realization of AI so far. A few well-known examples of narrow AI include:

  • Google search.
  • Personal assistants such as Alexa and Siri.
  • Image recognition software, etc.
  • Self-driving cars.

Narrow AI has experienced many breakthroughs in the last decade that have contributed to the economic growth of different nations. It has not only become incredibly good at doing what humans do, but it also does it more quickly, effectively, and at a lower cost.

How is artificial intelligence used in healthcare?

Artificial intelligence has become an increasingly important element of the healthcare ecosystem. Here are some common applications of artificial intelligence in healthcare:

Data management

The first step in healthcare is collecting and assessing information such as medical records and other past history. So, the most widely used application of AI in healthcare is data management. Smart machines trace, collect, re-format and store data to provide faster, more consistent access.

Medical research

AI systems are valuable for medical research as they help to match suitable patients to clinical studies. Researchers have invented an AI ‘robot scientist’ known as Eve, which is designed to simplify, expedite, and economize the process of drug recovery. With AI technology, it is also much easier to evaluate and make out patterns in voluminous and complex datasets more accurately and quickly.

Planning and resource allocation

Health and social care services are utilizing AI as a tool for planning and resource allocation. For instance, Harrow Council is piloting the IBM Watson Care Manager system so as to improve cost efficiency. The system matches patients with a healthcare provider that meets their healthcare needs and budgets.

Enhancing patient experience

Some healthcare providers are using AI to improve patient experience. One good example is Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool, which is collaborating with IBM Watson in a venture that is set to develop a ‘cognitive hospital’ whose aim is to facilitate the hospital’s interactions with their patients.

Clinical care

There are a number of possible uses of AI in clinical care. One of them is in medical imaging, whereby AI is used to reduce the time and costs involved in assessing scans. The technology has also shown potential in detecting health conditions such as breast and skin cancers, eye disease and pneumonia.

Another possible use of AI in clinical care is in echocardiography, whereby AI is used to assess echocardiography scans that monitor heartbeats and diagnose coronary heart disease. AI is also used in screening neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease. Surgeons are also using robotic devices controlled by AI to perform specific tasks in keyhole surgery, such as tying knots to close wounds.

Provision of personalized information and advice

Another application of artificial intelligence in healthcare is the use of apps that use AI to provide personalized health evaluations and home care advice. A good example is Ada Health Companion. This is an app that utilizes AI to run a chat-box, which helps users to match symptoms with other information to provide probable diagnoses. Other similar apps include “GP at Hand” by Babylon Health, and “Arthritis Virtual Assistant” by IBM.

Pros and cons of artificial intelligence in healthcare

Of course, the emergence of AI in healthcare comes with both its advantages and disadvantages.

Pros

Makes monotonous work easier.
Even the most hardworking medical personnel are susceptible to get tired and bored when performing repetitive, tedious tasks. AI-enabled devices are capable of doing such task quickly and efficiently. What’s more is that they don’t need to rest, sleep, or take breaks. So, a healthcare provider that implements AI can serve more patients.

Facilitates more accurate diagnosis.
The World Health Organization lists approximately 70,000 diseases in total. Out of the listed diseases, less than 200 diseases present actual symptoms. Since some symptoms are common in different diseases, the probability of misdiagnosis is high. When an AI-equipped product is loaded with all the relevant data, it can search through huge chunks of information more efficiently and much quicker than a human physician and give a more accurate diagnosis.

Improves patient access to healthcare.
For patients living in rural areas, it can be difficult for them to access doctors and specialists. AI-enabled programs can help patients access digital nurses that can help them monitor their conditions and follow up with treatments. There are also apps that provide basic health information and advice, as well as offer answers regarding medications and whether symptoms require a doctor visit.

Cons

Although use of artificial intelligence in healthcare has many benefits, as with most developments in the technology space, there are several limitations. The following are the disadvantages of AI in healthcare:

Costly and time-consuming to implement.
AI technology can cost a lot of time and money not just to build, but also to rebuild and repair. While large healthcare providers may have the resources to implement this technology, small practices may not be able to afford it.

Can lead to severe unemployment.
AI-enabled devices not only perform tasks that humans do, but they do so exceedingly well. Unless healthcare facilities can utilize AI for jobs that humans can’t do, use of AI can lead to severe unemployment.

Future of artificial intelligence in Healthcare

The immense data analysis and management capabilities of AI systems promise faster, more efficient and accurate diagnoses. It also promises cheaper and more effective drugs tailored to each patient’s disease and needs. Though this technology is still in its infancy stage, the achievements it has made so far in healthcare are exciting, and signify a healthier future.

With every passing day, AI is getting increasingly sophisticated and more efficient. Going forward, chances are high that AI systems will be used in more advanced diagnosis and treatments. It will also have the capability to execute more complex tasks in the healthcare sector without human intervention.

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