AI Revolution: Artificial Intelligence Impacting Healthcare

Technology has worked its way into every area of our life. It dominates our communication, transport, food production, healthcare, and even the way we choose to define “being human”. However, with the rise of the Internet, it became clear that what technology offered us, more than simply convenience or efficiency in day-to-day life, was the ability to collect, store and access information in a way never seen before. Now, this is taking a further leap into artificial intelligence (AI) – technology that not only collects, stores and distributes mass amounts of information, but can learn while doing so. AI is set to revolutionize the way we live our lives – and managing our healthcare is no exception.

How will artificial intelligence improve healthcare?

We spoke to Prof Deshen Moodley, co-founder and deputy director of the Centre for Artificial Intelligence Research, and associate professor of Computer Science at the University of Cape Town.

He lists the areas of healthcare that will be most affected by AI, below:

1. Imaging and diagnositics

“Imaging and diagnostics can greatly benefit from AI. Remember, ‘big data’ and AI work together. So, not only can we store a great deal of information, such as X-rays and images for a variety of illnesses, we can also have the computer analyze this information automatically to perform diagnoses.”

AI will also have the ability to detect details which the human eye can’t see, and the ability to “learn”. This means it will get more accurate with each case it diagnoses. Moodley continues: “So, instead of your diagnosis coming from a doctor who has seen, maybe, a couple of hundred cases, the computer will be able to diagnose you on the basis of hundreds of thousands of cases.”

“In the area of ophthalmology, it can be of great assistance in early identification of eye diseases like glaucoma, which, if not detected in the early stages, can lead to vision loss. Images of the retina can be captured remotely by a technician or nurse, and automatically analyzed using AI techniques, to identify individuals that show early stages of glaucoma.”

2. Drug discovery

“Artificial intelligence assists us with drug discovery, as it reduces the time researchers have to spend in the ‘wet lab’, or real world. Instead, we can simulate the laboratory – the ‘dry lab’ – and far more quickly find the molecule which is best fit for a particular situation,” Moodley explains.

“What may take years to achieve in a wet lab can now be achieved in just a few days using AI. This results in more efficient drugs on the market for improved treatment options. It also reduces the cost and time of discovering new drugs.”

3. Early cancer detection

Pathway Genomics recently released a research study for its new blood test kit which it says will assist early diagnosis in high-risk cancer patients.

Moodley says AI can improve such test kits through its advanced learning and pattern-recognition abilities. As a result, it will be able to pick up things the average human physician will not be able to. This allows critical diagnoses to occur sooner, which allows us to work on preventing or improving the treatment of a disease such as cancer. Click here to find out Harvard Medical School’s research is working to improve breast cancer detection.

4. Remote Patient MonitoringAI | Longevity LIVE

Patients will be able to be monitored remotely, rather than having to visit their doctor regularly or being admitted to hospital. This would apply only to cases considered not to be too severe.

Moodley elaborates: “This is already happening. Some medical aids in South Africa already offer Skype video consultations with physicians from the comfort of your home. In the future, this will be supplemented by personal diagnostics. This will involve recording and tracking your vital signs from home-based diagnostic devices and wearables. This will allow you to have improved personalised healthcare, and alert you and your healthcare professional when it is necessary for human intervention.”

5. Smart House Visits

In the future, will we reach a point where patients with chronic conditions will be cared for at home by visiting nurses
or doctors who have been matched to them by smart platforms and Uber-type services?

Christopher Rimmer, VP of business development and strategy at LifeQ, states: “In a scenario in which real-time and continuous information is available, this seems inevitable. If you really let this play out way into the future, a machine will actually do most of the diagnosis, and the care provider/physician will execute the treatment based on this – this negates the need for the care provider to have personal long-term knowledge of the patient. Obviously, this would be a gradual process, but not as far away as it seems.”

Taking charge of your health: The growing movement

Moodley believes society and technology are converging at a point where we will live in a very “person-centric” world. “Whichever industry you look at, there is a trend towards consumers wanting to have finer control over and engagement with services that directly affect their lives. They no longer want to delegate this responsibility to the traditional experts.

“This is true in healthcare as well, and Artificial intelligence is now working towards improving the individual’s control over their own health, by equipping them with the information they need.” He adds: “Individualized healthcare, or ‘precision health’, is the future. At its core you will find the continuous collection and processing of data, including your genetic signature, individual lifestyle, and environment factors.

“In the future, your FitBit and smartphone won’t just measure your heart rate, count your steps and keep a log of the food you have been eating. Instead, this approach will accelerate exponentially, allowing these, or similar, pieces of technology to monitor you constantly for a number of health indicators – thus assisting in the prevention of lifestyle diseases such as diabetes and hypertension.”

How soon can we expect this to happen?

Rimmer says it will be a reality sooner rather than later. “However, it won’t happen until the patient demands it. In a truly patient-centric health system, where the patient is in control of their health information, it will become a requirement, and the system will coalesce to deliver this.”

Moodley adds: “The raw technology components are there, and this is not holding us back at this point.”

What are the dangers of AI-dominated healthcare?

“AI should be used for improving human decision-making and not to replace it,” says Moodley. “The danger lies in how we approach the technology. If we use it responsibly, almost as an early warning and recommendation system, it can add immense value. If, however, we rely on it fully to manage our health, then there are dangers.

According to Rimmer, another factor is the scale of fallout that could occur. “If there is an error in the system, assuming it is a pervasive system, then everyone could get given the wrong diagnosis/information. One bad doctor can impact only a few people; one bad machine could impact thousands. There will need to be very stringent checks.”

What will the role of the human physician be?

“This role will continue to evolve and is currently in the process of change; however, it will in no way be eliminated. It will just shift towards one that is more focused on providing expert advice and explanation,” says Moodley. “They will have your personalized data available to them and artificial intelligence would have injected its suggestion based on this data. It will be the role of your physician to unbundle this for you personally and ensure that you are on the right track. Of course, physicians would increasingly need data science skills in the future, to alter and analyze vast quantities of data.”

Rimmer suggests: “Diagnostics and monitoring will in theory become largely machine-driven – assuming the right inputs do become available. Drug discovery will also be hugely aided; however, it seems unlikely that the creative scientific process will be replaced completely.”

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Written by Savannah Freemantle