Artificial intelligence once seemed like something unique to science fiction, but it is actually a decades-old technology that multiple industries employ today. Recent developments in machine and deep learning have made it more effective than ever, and it’s busily integrating itself in the medical world. Biochemistry students like Cody Moxam from the University of Dallas (you can check out his home page here) are excited about the possibilities it poses—and wary of the caveats.
So, what are some ways AI could impact the medical landscape?
It can perform tasks humans cannot.
One of AI’s primary functions is performing tasks that humans cannot, or doing so with greater accuracy. For example, doctors could use AI tools that help them perform surgeries more efficiently than if they were operating alone, even reducing patients’ hospital stays by 21 percent. One study gathered data from 379 orthopedic operations found that patients whose procedures incorporated artificial intelligence resulted in five times fewer complications.Robots are even applicable to operations like eye surgery. Your first thought might be of androids, but this is not the case (yet).
It has predictive capabilities.
Artificial intelligence can also gather extreme amounts of data and analyze them rapidly. With its ability to think quickly, it could create better outcomes for procedures and even predict disease epidemics. It could help people manage resources more efficiently (such as anticipating future demands for clinics and emergency rooms), help people intervene earlier in disease processes, recommend specialty services, and more. When AI can aggregate data and offer projections, patients and professionals can act with the future in mind.
One of the healthcare industry’s most prominent problems lies in communication. Between doctors discussing treatments with patients, nurses exchanging patient information with other nurses, hospitals interacting with insurance providers, and more, there are many places where information can be lost or twisted. The Next Web reports that “80 percent of serious medical errors are due to miscommunication between caregivers during patient transfer. AI can, and will, more effectively address these communication issues.”
AI could streamline the transference of electronic medical data. There are also apps that make it possible to schedule appointments, or even monitor patients at home and alert medical professionals if something goes wrong.
Working behind the scenes.
Many applications for AI are where patient and professionals’ journeys intersect, but the technology can make professionals’ lives behind the scenes easier, too. According to Robert Hryniewicz from Hortonworks:
“In some hospitals, data about treatment times is being processed to help predict how long a particular surgical procedure will fake, or how long an imaging device may be in use. This helps to avoid waste and improve patient outcomes by building treatment schedules that maximize the use of scarce human talent and technology resources. For example, healthcare services company Vizient is applying AI to help its members deliver cost-effective healthcare. Pattern recognition on lab and patient data can provide recommendations on how customers can improve healthcare outcomes efficiently.”
Hospitals need to manage high amounts of data, but AI could reduce their workload and improve various processes.
Are there any concerns?
While artificial intelligence could have a number of positive effects on medicine, it is also important to consider the downsides. Many doctors and other professionals, for instance, are afraid that AI could replace them. There are also privacy concerns regarding the ethics of collecting, storing, and sharing patients’ data, especially between healthcare entities without patients’ consent.
Another barrier to making AI mainstream in the medical field is that hospitals would have to invest in training their employees how to use such devices properly. Practitioners would also have to decide whether to listen to an AI machine’s advice and predictions or use their own judgment if the device’s recommendations are inappropriate or inaccurate (as smart as artificial intelligence can be, it is not faultless, and understanding how it arrives at specific conclusions can be difficult).
AI also lacks something, as of now, that only real-life medical practitioners possess: empathy. Face-to-face time between patients and physicians is one of the most critical aspects of medical practice, so leaning too much on AI could result in patients not feeling adequately cared for or professionals not fully understanding their patients’ stories. AI can do a lot, but it cannot completely replace a person in this regard.
Technology in the medical world is continuously advancing, and artificial intelligence is here and ready to make revolutionary changes — but how quickly or affordably it can be implemented is yet to be determined. How do you foresee AI impacting the healthcare industry?