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Healthcare and artificial intelligence – the ultimate love-hate relationship

  • Posted on October 28, 2019
  • Estimated reading time 4 minutes

AI in healthcare – from genomic analysis to designer babies 
From radiology to telemedicine, there is not an area of healthcare where technology does not play a critical role.  This will continue to grow as the next 5 years will be filled with opportunities in genomic analysis and augmented reality, and the next 25 years will undoubtedly have questions related to designer babies and nanotech, accordingly to The Economist. Today, however, the area of greatest potential and interest across the healthcare arena is artificial intelligence (AI).  

Various remote patient monitoring technologies are already in use to help caregivers provide timely support, which in turn, enable patients to continue to live at home: IoT-based devices are used to monitor patient conditions and vital signs; wearables alert emergency services and caregivers when a patient falls.

AI and robotic process automation (RPA) are ideal technologies to alleviate some of the administrative and scheduling burdens, and they also have enormous potential to decrease operational costs, enhance the patient experience and even improve treatment outcomes. From dissecting patient concerns through natural language processing and bots to providing an overall positive experience by automating manual and repetitive tasks like billing, claims and insurance processing results in a double benefit of improving the physician experience as well as the patient experience.  

Moving to holistic healthcare through wearables 
Disconnected, “moment of pain” healthcare. That’s the current reality for many in today’s healthcare system. When patients walk into a medical facility, they are examined and perhaps prescribed medications and a treatment program. But what happens next? Often the impact of the medications are not monitored, the patient’s adherence to taking the medicines are never tracked, and many times the root cause of why the patient came into the office is never fully understood or resolved. 

Technologies like AI can – and will – change all that. In some areas, patients already have the ability to communicate with their healthcare team via text or video call, and review treatment plans and results online. The adoption of telemedicine has increased significantly with 35% of hospitals leveraging technology to connect with patients remotely in 2010 to a striking 75% of hospitals in 2017, according to an AHA Annual Survey. Incorporation of computer vision, natural language processing, and machine learning may make it possible to assess the emotional state of the patient on video screen or provide text responses via chatbots instead of a doctor for common issues.  

Mobile devices and wearables will enable 24/7 monitoring so that healthcare teams can understand how the patient’s month looked, rather than a specific day or moment.  These health-centric wearables are evolving rapidly from tracking steps and heart rate to providing complex performance data and sweat-analysis in real-time . Through the proliferation of wearables at a personal level, the healthcare ecosystem could have access to a robust set of data, albeit in decentralized sources, that consumers are often willing to pay for and maintain themselves that can allow physicians to provide more timely, proactive care. How these data sources come into in one holistic system and the privacy implications remain topics of debate and public discussion.  

Leveraging AI & technology for physician collaboration 
Many doctors already rely on AI systems to mine and collect data to support them in their work. Cancer research and radiology diagnostics can be performed much more quickly and at a higher scale and quality by an AI-supported team than when performed by a human-only medical team.

A multitude of disparate data exists across the healthcare continuum – from insurance to primary care, dental, gynecological, research and disease treatment. We have seen great success by some healthcare teams in connecting all of this data, mining it with chatbots, and quickly delivering relevant information to doctors so that they can make more informed treatment decisions. A great example is Ascension Wisconsin’s Virtual Tumor Board, which won the 2019 Innovator Award from the Association of Community Cancer Centers, for being able to extend cancer case reviews to four times more patients by utilizing the Microsoft Teams platform.   

Physician of the future = half-scientist, half-technologist
Although AI can aid significantly in helping to automate tasks, diagnose issues, and even treat some patients remotely, the reality of AI is that it is focused on performing a task rather than considering why it is performed and the human implications of it’s execution.

Doctors already spend significant time in school, maintaining certifications and attending conferences. By co-working with AI and other advanced systems, they will need to learn about and continually upskill on those technologies to ensure collaboration is done effectively and with the best interest of the patient in mind.

That focus on technology as well as the changing healthcare context could change the type of individuals entering the medical field. The physician of the future will need to be comfortable with lifelong learning and ambiguity - gracefully maneuvering challenging patient conversations that should never be outsourced to a machine as well as the complex technological conversations with the machine makers on what aspects can and cannot be automated. The ideal physician of the future will need to feel comfortable with the fact that they are half-scientist, half-technologist.

Learn more by attending Ai4 Healthcare in NYC on November 11 & 12. Avanade’s Global Research Lead for Advanced Analytics, Dr. Michele Bennett, will be speaking in the session, “Using artificial intelligence in clinical research – use cases and implications – the promise, challenges, and potential.” Please contact me with any questions.

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