Artificial intelligence (AI) has changed the game. When machine learning and technological intelligence were first discussed, their implementation in the healthcare industry may not have been the main focus of the conversation, but the modern world has made such a marriage not only convenient but vital. 2020 was a revolutionary year for many reasons, and the increasing presence of AI in healthcare was one of them, as society’s reliance on the digital world forced development and innovation to the forefront in the world of health and medicine.
Artificial intelligence in medicine is no longer the future, it is the now, and the development of AI and machine learning will continue to change the way we view our hearts and minds across future generations. AI is changing the healthcare industry at a record-setting pace.
How is AI changing healthcare?
Forget all comments promising a technological revolution, for they are obsolete. The revolution promised for so long is very much here, and not a single industry can develop (or survive) without embracing everything that machines have to offer. In this regard, healthcare is no different, but the impact of artificial intelligence and medical software on healthcare has far greater implications than the use of AI in many other industries.
AI has significantly improved day-to-day healthcare in a variety of ways, allowing clinicians to focus on the details of healthcare while providing patients with unprecedented access to their own data. By employing artificial intelligence to take care of tasks that usually take up valuable manpower and time, patient care management has the potential to become more streamlined and cost-efficient than ever before. By its very definition, AI partially removes human error and labor from the equation, allowing for the quicker organization of triage as well as an enhanced identification process for potential conditions. Artificial intelligence allows doctors to find the metaphorical needle in a haystack, faster than ever before. The data processing power of AI has opened doors in the healthcare industry that were previously bolted shut.
Not only is artificial intelligence the perfect doctor’s assistant, but it has also developed to the point where patients can access data in real-time. A host of medical apps are now on the market as well as an ever-evolving range of wearable devices that allow people to monitor everything from heart rate to blood pressure, ensuring that spikes are not missed and that potential problems can be found ahead of time. AI has helped society become more health-conscious outside of the waiting room.
Effective AI in the healthcare industry
It is important to remember that the term ‘artificial intelligence’ covers a wide range of technologies. While largely applying to the simulation of human intelligence in machines, it also describes any technology that mimics the traits of the human mind, be it through learning or problem-solving. Within the healthcare industry, several types of artificial intelligence are standing out.
Machine learning offers the healthcare industry a vast range of benefits that can be priceless in meeting medical demands while improving overall efficiency and lowering costs. The most obvious of these benefits lies in improved information processing, streamlined record-keeping, and the development of data-centric records that exponentially improve patient care and patient care management. Changes are tracked and noted in real-time, saving precious minutes and allowing clinicians and patients alike to react immediately. These same records can provide support and analysis too, further entrenching the idea of AI as the perfect doctor’s assistant. The predictive analysis aspect of machine learning in healthcare could yet prove to be its most valuable asset.
Natural language processing (NLP) is an extension of machine learning in healthcare. This refers to technology being able to understand human speech terms and text, primarily for the purposes of personal voice assistance and language translation applications. However, more and more establishments are embracing the potential of NLP and reaping the rewards, namely through more actionable insights stemming from healthcare data, as NLP allows for a better understanding and more value to be extracted from unstructured data.
Enhanced understanding and application of data is one thing, but how does artificial intelligence help the healthcare industry in the trenches? A more efficient approach to information is great, but ultimately toothless if little difference is made on the ground in hospitals and clinics. Thankfully, the practical use of robotics continues to revolutionize the healthcare industry daily, improving everything from diagnosis to surgery. For fear of sounding a little too science fiction, the fact that robots don’t have feelings, don’t get tired, and never lose focus makes them the perfect surgeon. It stands to reason that this particular branch of artificial intelligence is embraced more and more in operating rooms around the world. Robotics has also allowed for more remote treatments to take place, not to mention the endless benefits in education and training. When you add more accurate diagnoses and the auxiliary tasks that robots can take care of (freeing up valuable time for assistants and doctors alike), you get an increasingly influential aspect of an industry that holds efficiency and accuracy in high esteem.
Sticking with robotics, Robotic Process Automation (RPA) takes the grind of those auxiliary tasks and sweeps them away, creating a more streamlined workflow for clinics across the globe. Software robots are increasingly being employed in positions that previously required human attention, from responding to patient requests to taking care of data transfers, removing the eternal fear of human error and misjudgment. Often the metaphorical elephant in the room in misdiagnosis and poor patient care management, human errors are increasingly being replaced by the sleek efficiency of RPA, offering better and more actionable care at a fraction of the cost, allowing funds to be reinvested in more useful areas.
The range of areas in which AI enhances healthcare is vast, allowing the medical industry to improve its services from diagnosis to treatment and even before and beyond, be it through discovering genetic links to learning from outcomes. Healthcare has never been more modern.
Benefits of implementing AI in healthcare
Everything from the art of treatment to the bottom line of the balance sheet. From the clinical point of view, AI has helped advance clinical decision-making by providing in-depth data and analysis across the board, while opening up previously locked doors regarding information sharing. Thanks to AI, the tracking of data has never been more accurate or comprehensive, allowing for better patient care and improved doctor time to patient ratios. This unprecedented access to precision can be put to many uses, from potentially identifying patterns within data to the streamlining impact that it can have on patient care management. The benefits of AI’s efficiency when it comes to analyzing huge swathes of data cannot be overstated.
Another major benefit of AI in healthcare is the previously mentioned removal of human error and time, freeing highly-trained doctors and nurses up to focus on more pertinent tasks within a clinic. AI has lightened the load in physician administration like never before, translating or tracking clinical notes, streamlining appointments, organizing triage, and even taking care of post-procedural tasks like cleaning and resetting. AI is the perfect employee for the dirty jobs around a hospital that might not be desirable but are utterly vital nonetheless.
The benefits of AI in healthcare have spread way beyond the walls of the hospital. Applications and wearable devices are helping people stay healthy at home, reducing the need for avoidable visits to medical centers across the board. The abundance of applications encouraging and assisting in everyday improvements for health have put consumers front and center of their own well-being, making potential patients more aware of their health on a day-to-day basis, easing the workload of physicians in the process.
And what of the improvements AI has brought about in doctor training? Artificial intelligence allows students to experience naturalistic simulations that exponentially improve abilities and understanding, exposing would-be doctors, surgeons, and physicians to theoretical scenarios that can be understood in practical terms. The development of medical applications also allows students to train anywhere at any time, allowing for longer learning and more hours under the collective belt. AI has made education in healthcare more rounded and complete, readying doctors-in-training for the intensity and importance of the career.
The benefits of AI in the medical industry cover much more than just decision making, training, patient-centric healthcare, and easing the burden of clinic administration. These are simply the tip of an iceberg that covers the entirety of the sector.
Challenges and ethics of AI
While the benefits of utilizing AI in healthcare are clear for all to see, it goes without saying that there are plenty of challenges when it comes to employing medical technology correctly and ethically. Artificial intelligence has come leaps and bounds since the speculative fiction of Mary Shelley and Karel Čapek, but it remains far from perfect. AI can improve healthcare, but it is not a magic wand that will immediately fix all the mistakes of the past. If AI isn’t implemented correctly, it has the potential for toothlessness or worse.
While the employment of AI can help reduce problems caused by human error, it is important to remember that AI is not ready to work entirely on its own. AI may be fantastic at fulfilling the commands asked of it, but those commands are still human-led. AI can minimize human error but it cannot eradicate it entirely. Of course, this in itself can cause problems in the sensitive world of healthcare, as the sleek efficiency of artificial intelligence can be at odds with the personable care provided by physicians. People want to feel cared for, especially at times of physical stress, and machines are not able to provide the emotional comfort that is indelible to the human experience.
Another challenge of AI centers around data security and confidentiality, not to mention the hierarchy of importance that is central to the effective use of data. Health is a sensitive matter, and the fear remains that massive collections of highly personal data are susceptible to hacking and mining. The modern world is one in which data is currency and king at the same time, and maintaining data security and privacy has never been more important. AI also approaches each piece of data equally, and it isn’t out of the question that irrelevant and noisy data can cause obstructions and divert the focus of medical software.
Future predictions for AI in healthcare
Artificial intelligence has long been touted as the future of healthcare, but what is the future of artificial intelligence? Firstly, there is no reason to believe that the analytical developments of AI will slow down any time soon, and the continual development of medical software will see it further enhance its potential as the perfect assistant. In the eyes of many, this is the reality that the medical industry should be focused on trying to create. AI should not be developed to remove the human application of medicine entirely, merely developed to accentuate and improve it. The decreasing of human error is important, but maintaining human touch is just as vital.
Elsewhere, the impact of AI on training and education will certainly continue to grow. The test-centric nature of clinician training removes many of the barriers when it comes to implementing AI in the medical industry, and it will be the students of today and doctors of tomorrow who get the first use of new medical software and applications. Flexibility and dexterity on the cutting edge of medicine will be increasingly vital for newly-qualified physicians, and embracing AI at an early stage will become more and more obligatory for clinicians-in-training.
The truth is that predicting the future of technology is itself done in the past. What comes into being in the next generation was dreamt up by generations past and so on. The industry will continue to be blessed with game-changing innovation and life-saving technology, but that same industry must retain the understanding and clarity required to put that medical software into action in a way that benefits the present and future of the healthcare industry. AI is here to stay, to say the least.