Healthcare Is Ailing. AI Can Help.

Emerging technologies could make health services more affordable and accessible to all.
Headshot of Jason Cottrell.
Jason Cottrell
Expert Columnist
December 3, 2020
Updated: February 24, 2021
Headshot of Jason Cottrell.
Jason Cottrell
Expert Columnist
December 3, 2020
Updated: February 24, 2021

This year has shown, with startling clarity, how crucial a high-functioning healthcare system is not only to the well-being of populations but to the functioning of a society as a whole. Nearly every aspect of our modern lives is dependent on a healthy, able populace and that’s why now, while we have this clarity of insight, is the time to invest in the technological upgrades to these systems that have long been on the horizon.

We need to create a digital network of patient information. We need to begin the process of incorporating robotics into patient care, minimizing risks to both patient and provider in doing so. And we need to start using the awesome power of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) properly, implementing them at the forefront of diagnostics to seek out patterns and to identify previously unseen markers that could save not just one life but thousands.

 

The Robot Will See You Now

An area that was just starting to take hold in health services prior to the pandemic was telehealth and remote appointments. Since the pandemic, this has taken off. From video calls with doctors to increased usage of health chatbots for initial triage and screening, a significant portion of the preliminary medical interactions normally done in person has been successfully transitioning to a tech-facilitated alternative.

This is unsurprising, based on internal results Myplanet found from a large-scale study we conducted on consumer comfort with a variety of new and emerging technologies. The idea of using a healthcare chatbot, while not universally embraced, ranked in the top fifth of our study — almost 60 percent of the 500 people surveyed expressed neutral to good feelings about engaging with this kind of automated health system. When looking at the first steps of bringing new tech to healthcare, understanding where and when people feel safest will be crucial for successful implementations.

This is why it’s also important to note that, by contrast, nearly 70 percent of our respondents were uncomfortable with the idea of a robot nurse and around 50 percent of respondents said they would not feel comfortable with a robotic surgeon operating on them. People were more comfortable with chatbots — a technology normally facilitated in at least some part by AI — than they were with various types of robots in a healthcare setting.

While surgical robots, whose precision will likely win over skeptics, will probably make inroads in the near future, robot nurses and doctors probably won’t, especially since telehealth and chatbots are starting to offer some of the convenience and ancillary benefits (like keeping illness contained) without the uncanny valley effect of a human-like robot.

 

Getting Smart About AI in Healthcare

AI is the technology that could have the greatest impact on healthcare services, so let’s get right to it. We need to bring AI to healthcare — now.

Humans have their strengths and weaknesses. One thing we’re absolutely not good at is logic-based tasks and processing massive amounts of data. Unlike the algorithms in our machines, which have been designed and built to process information at almost unfathomable rates, humans are slow — and what’s worse, prone to error. We’re just not made for the cut-and-dry assessment that reams of data require. Incorporating AI and ML into healthcare would help us surface patterns and find insights we’d never have discovered on our own.

The good news is there are early AI adopters in the medical world that are already seeing a major impact. In the field of diagnostic imaging, for example, AI is helping doctors identify potential causes for concern in X-rays and other scans. The earlier and better detection moves patients up the queue for review and treatment, meaning higher-risk patients are treated sooner and have better odds of recovery.

But that’s just the start. From finding patterns in disease evolution or markers for genetic risk, to simply being able to recognize trends and biases in a radiologist’s diagnoses, there are countless benefits for health providers seeking to improve their outcomes. If we apply AI over time to individual patient care plans, we can provide proactive care. Preventative medicine has the potential to eliminate or vastly reduce certain negative outcomes and AI could make it affordable and accessible to all in a way current systems can’t support.

Over time, as we re-engineer our systems to work with AI and as our communities grow more accustomed to how AI works, we can start to add in more contextual and real-time details, ultimately creating a highly personalized health plan for every person. And along the way, improve health outcomes for millions.

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