A Healthcare Revolution
You’ve been feeling a bit off the past couple of weeks. You’re waking up more and more tired every morning; but your sleeping schedule seems to be fine and your diet has been healthier than ever. How is it then, that every time you get out of bed it feels like you’ve been hit by a truck? You know a doctor’s visit would suffice, but your busy schedule just hasn’t been letting you. So what now? IMAGINE: you take out your phone, open the Buoy Health app and talk to Steven: a polite, well-informed doctor. In only a view minutes Steven reviews all your naggy symptoms, looks at your previous health records and from this, formulates an accurate diagnosis and even refers you to a fitting treatment plan. Diagnosis: just a little iron shortage. With the help of some tablets and a goodnights rest, you are up and running again within days –how convenient. However, Steven never went to medical school and he has never felt any form of empathy towards you or any of his patients. This is not because Steven is a fraud or because he’s an asshole; this is because Steven was made by researchers in a lab. Steven is an artificial intelligence physician.
This scenario might seem a little too futuristic for some, but it is closer to reality than we think. In recent years AI has taken a massive leap to forever change the way we practice medicine. Companies like Buoy Health and Babylon Health are setting the stage for a technological development that will not only revolutionise the way Western medicine is used, but how the entire global healthcare systems operate. So what exactly does the data say about AI’s performance in the medical field? Let’s dive into it.
Faster, more accurate diagnosis
Although still in its developing stages, the appliance of intelligent algorithms in medical diagnoses are already outperforming 17 out of 18 radiologists in spotting malignant tumors in cancer patients. LYNA, a program developed by researchers at Google AI Healthcare, is able to analyse human biopsies on cancerous or non-cancerous cells with a whopping 99% accuracy; at a 50% faster rate. Artificial Intelligence is able to diagnose patients more efficiently and effectively than even our best doctors ever will. This may make some physicians doubt their competence, but it is mostly here to aid them in their craft.
Buoy Health is an AI-based symptom checker, which is able to take a patient’s symptoms and his or her health concerns and use this data to diagnose a patient and formulate a treatment plan without ever having to consult a doctor first. Super convenient for workaholics with a busy schedule, but also a nice assisting tool for practicing physicians to double check their diagnosis. Even the renounced Harvard Medical School uses Steven’s capabilities. They use Buoy’s AI to make their patients diagnoses and treatments more efficient and effective.
AI will also reduce the workload of nurses and other medical personnel. Nurses spend approximately 25% of their day on repetitive, administrative tasks like updating patients’ data, billing records and prior authorization. AI can greatly increase the speed with which this data is processed. With artificial intelligence taking over these administrative tasks, nurses and doctors will have more time left to attend to patients personally which improve the quality of healthcare. Not only because there will be less mistakes in the data-processing, but because one of the most important aspects of healthcare: personal contact, can be practiced more attentively. Furthermore, this delegation of administrative duties releases some of the pressure on the employee shortages in the health-sector.
With all this administrative data becoming available to artificial intelligence programs, AI can use these datasets to do cross-matching analysis. This means that they analyse patients’ data to find connections between symptoms and diagnoses, these can then be used to formulate personalised healthcare plans, which are catered to the needs of each specific patient. Babylon Health for example, is a company founded in the UK which uses AI to provide personalised and interactive healthcare via mobile devices. This personalised healthcare might come in handy when you are lying on the couch with what you think is the flue, but which could be something entirely different. Just open the app, make an appointment and in a matter of hours you’ll know what’s wrong. This is comfortable and time efficient for everyone, and cost effective for you.
Faster drug development
While all the Stevens in the world are saving us money and time, it can also aid us in the development of drugs. As all of us have been waiting for a corona vaccine, we have all come to the conclusion that drug development in not a particularly fast process. A study published by MIT found that only 13.8% of drugs tested pass clinical trial –a horrible rate. And the prices for these trials can range from 150 million upwards to 2 billion dollars. Not exactly time and money well spent. This is also one of the main reasons medicine is so expensive and rare to the less financially gifted. But I think you guessed it already, AI offers a solution here. By creating the right AI-algorithm, Artificial Intelligence is able to calculate the success rates of each clinical trial before it has ever begun. With this information we are able to formulate which trials have the best chances of success. This increases the speed and also the cost effectiveness of drug development.
Not all sunshine and rainbows
But of course, AI is not only sunshine and rainbows. A lot of this has to do with ethical issues concerning AI. The upsides also involve considerable risks. As is often said: with great power comes great responsibility.
Patient data security
The first thing that comes to mind is the data security of apps like Buoy and Babylon Health. We are trusting all our little medical secrets to a machine that has no conscious affect towards our privacy needs. So how do we protect this data? How do we know that the data does not fall into the wrong hands? What if the bad wolf uses our data against us when we apply for a new job. A recent study from the Gartner Hype Cycle has indicated that an upwards trend in Algorithmic Trust will actually increase data privacy. This means that our increased faith and reliance in algorithm, will lead to the development of algorithms focused on keeping our data secure. If this develops in parallel with AI in healthcare, privacy may no longer be an issue.
Doctor patient comfort
The second and most important concern has to do with the dilution of the social aspect of the doctor-patient relationship. Patients may fear that their personal needs are not adhered to when conversing with a machine. A lot of what makes western healthcare so great, is the personal approach we have on medical care. By reducing this care to digits we reduce human worth to digits. And for huge part, this is true. And there might not be any good argument against this. We can program the Stevens of tomorrow so seem more empathic, but a real human connection will remain nothing more hen a dream. But in this case, we need to consider AI-appliance mainly from a tool-use-perspective. This humanistic problem primarily is a ‘first world problem’. AI can greatly improve the welfare for each and everyone of us on this planet. With the help of AI, healthcare will not only be for those of good fortune. The appliance of artificial intelligence in healthcare makes medical care available for those that need it most: the poor and the weak. They will not place considerable question marks next to the less humanistic approach, if it means saving the life of one’s child, or that of a significant other.
A revolution that cannot be stopped
Although the use of Artificial Intelligence in healthcare is still in its developing stages, the early prospects look immensely promising. The appliance of AI in medical practice will lower the costs which will make healthcare more affordable and widely available. By using our mobile devices in the developmental processes of medical apps, healthcare can be accessed at any place and time. This will result in low -income countries and – households also being able to afford good medicine, because AI has made it cheaper. By using artificial intelligence’s results of data analysis, we are able to give everyone the personalised treatment that is best suited for them and with this increase global welfare of all citizens. It might seem like utopia, a dystopia to some. But one thing cannot be denied. With the help of Steven and his colleagues, we are standing at the front of a medical revolution, one that cannot be denied.