Commonly described as the new nervous system of healthcare, Artificial Intelligence (AI) has become a key growth driver in the healthcare industry. According to a study by Allied Market Research, the global AI in healthcare market is projected to reach a valuation of $22,790 million by 2023, with a CAGR of 48.7% from 2017 to 2023. AI in healthcare has been developed to augment human capabilities – be it diagnosing a medical condition or assisting in surgeries.
AI in healthcare has given patients and healthcare providers an ecosystem that is more efficient and effective –and down the line –more economical in delivering better long-term outcomes. When a patient experiences a stroke, every second counts. This can be a challenge as access to medical care can take hours if the patient is in a remote or hard-to-reach location.
AI has the potential to facilitate high-speed, high-quality imaging that can help identify the type and location of the clot or bleed. This can then result in automated detection and faster decision-making regarding the course of treatment, giving the patient a better chance of recovery.
AI and other technologies powering healthtech
AI is built on a framework of various intelligent technologies, such as Machine Learning (ML), Data Analytics, Robotics and Natural Language Processing (NLP) to name a few. Though in the current environment, there are other technologies like Blockchain, Augment/Virtual Reality and IOT that have a pivotal role to play in this space. The power of these technologies combined together has the potential to deliver better health outcomes.
AI-led advancements in the healthcare industry can greatly enhance our lives, with massive inroads already being made in the areas of biomedical research, medical education, surgery, healthcare delivery and data management. As technology further develops, AI can alleviate many pain points in healthcare and also provide direction to patients in terms of the corrective measures that they should adopt for a specific or chronic ailment – all from the comfort of their home.
Let us take a look at the impact of AI-based innovations across the healthcare industry:
Customized care: In medicine, one size does not fit all and individualizing treatments mean more precision. The modern healthcare infrastructure is witnessing a phenomenal shift from traditional clinical-environment care delivery towards a highly customized care structure. AI can use medical scans and health records to decide on the course of treatment, personalize the dose of medication or even radiation therapy required at different stages of an ailment, thereby reducing the chances of treatment failure. Wearable devices providing real-time health data combined with machine learning-based predictive model algorithms are enabling truly individualized healthcare management.
Digital consumer: From a passive patient to a proactive consumer, people are at the centre of the revolution in care delivery. AI and other intelligent technologies are transforming the relationship between caregivers and patients by empowering the latter with access to their healthcare data and diagnostic reports and opportunities to make well-informed decisions about managing their health. With chatbots that can triage patients in no time to algorithms that collate price lists from nearest health centres, and from management of prescription deliveries online to searching for specialist doctors, scheduling appointments and sharing real-time health data with them through IoT devices, AI has transformed the profile of the digital consumer.
Robotics-assisted diagnostics (diabetic retinopathy, computer vision, etc.) are providing the medical community new tools to treat old problems, leading to faster and better decision-making.
Remote care: Telehealth and telemedicine are bringing the hospital services to one’s doorstep, turning the doctor or hospital location-agnostic. Technologies such as AR/VR are making it possible to set up virtual care systems that enable doctors to monitor the health of individuals in real-time, diagnose problems virtually, and even conduct remote, low-risk surgeries. AR can provide precise visualization of the patient’s anatomy without the surgeon needing to cut open the body. Imperial College and St. Mary’s Hospital in the United Kingdom have started leveraging these benefits during reconstructive surgery on patients with critical injuries.
Higher life expectancy: AI in the form of in-home sensors/Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) or wearable technologies are helping people live longer and healthier lives, by enabling early interventions for chronic diseases or emergency health situations. These innovations are based on patient data being fed from these devices into AI-powered software, which, in turn, collects, detects and reports a change in a patient’s condition. The start of deteriorating health status is immediately signalled, leading to immediate action by healthcare professionals.
Big data and predictive analytics are being used to forecast patterns in utilization of resources in emergency rooms and urgent care centres. This enables efficient and accurate mapping of staffing levels to account for changes in patient flow, and in turn, reduces waiting times and unnecessary crowding, thus increasing patient satisfaction.
One of the key elements of a patient’s health profile are the electronic health records that capture a patient’s medical history, including allergies, previous and current health issues, genetic problems, etc. This can be made digitally secure with Blockchain technology, which not only reduces the time required to access a patient’s information, but also enhances system interoperability and improves data quality.
Key considerations underlying technology adoption
With the adoption of these complex and evolving technologies, a novel set of challenges have emerged that are related to the aspects of ethics, transparency, privacy and data security. Privacy policies and ethical standards must keep pace with the pace of technological innovation. Cybersecurity is crucial for the success of any technology; therefore, smart systems must be supported with airtight digital policies and regulatory compliances to ensure safety of confidential patient data.
In a dynamic, empathy-led industry like healthcare, it is necessary to blend digital tools with human touch to bring about truly disruptive transformation. Therefore, it is imperative for tech firms to be cognizant of the ever-changing issues faced by doctors and patients as well as the human fears and frustrations involved in various health care stages.AI and other technologies provide the tools; however, the onus of data security lies with the people handling them.
What lies ahead?
As per a recent study by Accenture, by 2026, AI applications within the healthcare industry can potentially create $150 billion in savings annually for the U.S. There is a plethora of application areas where AI-based systems can help in boosting output; eliminate or at least reduce the margin for human error; and make expertise available that is scarce or entirely unavailable in certain locations.
That being said, the heart of connected care is not just technology capabilities, but also people: those who need to be cared for as well as those who work tirelessly to deliver the care. Ultimately, the burden of accountability falls on healthtech companies, hospitals as well as care providers and the regulators. While leveraging these technologies in healthcare, it is essential to ensure appropriate checks and balances are in place by setting up a suitable legislative and regulatory framework in keeping with technology innovations.
(The author is a Distinguished Engineer — Research & Innovation and leads R&D related initiatives at Optum Global Solutions (India) and the views published in the article are his own)