When it comes to healthcare technology, artificial intelligence (AI) has been dominating the headlines the past year. It is no wonder given the recent advancements in tech - particularly around machine learning and natural language processing. AI has been slowly dripping into many aspects of healthcare and has the potential to dramatically reduce the burdens currently placed on our overly-taxed healthcare system. Since we are all users of the healthcare system, it is important we understand the applications of AI and how it affects care. Here is a rundown of some of the most utilized applications of artificial intelligence in healthcare.
1. Precision Medicine
Precision medicine is being touted by some as the wave of the future of healthcare, and for good reason. It centers around the ability to predict and design early interventions tailored to individual patients depending on their unique genes. With the help of AI algorithms, precision medicine is becoming more accurate and more available, as these supercomputers are able to aggregate far more patient data than a human ever could - including clinical history, symptoms, genetics, environment and lifestyle factors - to enable personalized diagnoses.
The most prolific specialty of medicine that is utilizing precision medicine today is oncology. Physicians are able to use genetic testing, environmental factors, family history, and AI algorithms to learn if one is more or less likely to develop certain forms of cancer. Additionally, if you do develop a tumor and have a biopsy performed, they can use the information gleaned of the tumor to create a specialized treatment plan. Because of this, cancer patients are receiving more appropriate care and it's resulting in better outcomes and more lives saved.
The use of artificial intelligence in medical imaging is skyrocketing and shows incredible promise. Multiple studies have shown that AI can identify issues and diseases earlier and with equal or greater accuracy than human eyes. This is leading to earlier diagnosis and intervention. Additionally, AI algorithms are able to predict someone’s risk for a medical issue or disease by assessing imaging, allowing for preventative measures to take place. A final benefit to utilizing AI to read medical imaging is the speed with which it can do it, offloading a major burden of physicians, radiologists, pathologists, and the like. Not to mention, in many developing countries, there is a shortage of qualified imaging specialists. AI provides an incredibly affordable and available alternative.
Utilizing AI to detect pneumonia from chest x-rays is a powerful example of how AI is augmenting medical imaging, and became even more so during the COVID-19 pandemic. Examining chest x-rays is the most accurate way to diagnose pneumonia, which can be fatal if left untreated, but is difficult and also somewhat subjective. Using Deep Learning - a subset of artificial intelligence - and two publicly available sets of pneumonia positive chest x-rays, researchers have shown that this method predicts pneumonia with a 98.81% rate of accuracy.
3. Remote Patient Monitoring
Wearable technology has exploded the past few years, with 80% of consumers now willing to wear fitness and wellness trackers. What began as a trend for consumers to track and take ownership of their own personal health has opened up a whole new avenue in healthcare, coined Remote Patient Monitoring (RPM). Wearable health technology - such as smartwatches, ECG monitors, blood glucose monitors, and biosensors - allows all of the data collected by the device to be transferred directly to the wearer’s healthcare provider. Coupled with AI, this data can be aggregated to help determine risk factors for disease, allow for more timely intervention, and create personalized plans of care.
There are numerous benefits to RPM, including increased access to care, improved patient outcomes, more personalized care, and lower healthcare costs (mainly from fewer trips to a provider’s office and/or the emergency room). For a deep dive, check out this comprehensive guide to RPM.
4. AI Assistants
Ever since Siri was introduced to the world in 2011, voice recognition has seeped into just about every corner of our lives, healthcare being no exception. Today, voice recognition, coupled with natural language processing and machine learning, creates highly powerful AI that can help healthcare professionals with all kinds of time consuming and mundane tasks.
One of the most profound examples is an AI Assistant. AI Assistants are being used to help both clinicians with banal duties in their daily workflow and staff with backend administrative tasks. Workflow automation can be used in hospital systems to complete routine tasks such as discharge formalities and record maintenance. In the physical therapy industry, PredictionHealth’s PT Practice Intel offers detailed dashboard analytics that can reduce chart review by hundreds of hours per month and eliminates peer-to-peer review by analyzing 100% of therapists’ charts. Administrative AI Assistants save time, reduce frustration, and allow clinical staff to focus on more challenging tasks that are better suited to human capabilities.
5. Robotic Surgeries
Surgery is a very complicated and tiring process. Of course, the more experience and expertise a surgeon gathers the better, and that simply cannot be replicated by a machine. However, humans can experience a loss of motor skills and eventually fatigue after hours in the operating room. Robots, on the other hand, do not. This is precisely why the rise of AI robotic surgeries has been tremendous over the past years. Human knowledge, skill, and reasoning power combined with a robot's precision, ability to remain still, and repeat repetitive motions without tiring allows for optimal surgical outcomes.
The AI piece of robotic surgery is crucial. The AI is able to collect massive amounts of data by watching surgeons and can then determine patterns to augment best practices and improve a robot’s control to submillimeter precision. Some common areas of surgery using AI and robotics include urologic surgery, colorectal surgery, gynecologic surgery, and head, neck, and thoracic surgery. Benefits from robotic surgery for the patient are robust, including less blood loss, shorter hospital stays, and a faster recovery. Robots for the win!
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While this list is certainly not exhaustive of the applications of AI in healthcare, it is an amazing representation of how far AI technology has come to improve efficiency of providers and healthcare staff, as well as better patient outcomes. With so much growth in such a short amount of time, AI is poised to truly alter the future of healthcare by making it more precise, accessible, and affordable.