Artificial intelligence (AI) is becoming increasingly sophisticated at completing tasks that humans usually do, but more efficiently, quickly and at a lower cost. This offers huge potential across all industries. In healthcare, it holds particular value as it impacts patient care and wellbeing as well as the bottom-line.
The growing role of AI
Indeed, forecasts predict that medical uses of AI will be present in 90% of hospitals in the near future and replace as much as 80% of doctors’ roles. Investor Tej Kohli expects to see AI applications in healthcare contribute three to four times more global output than the Internet. This currently accounts for $50 trillion of the global economy.
There is clear, untapped potential in using AI. But for it to be fully utilised, the people in charge and implementing it must have a decent grasp of the opportunities and limitations. That means that doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals must get-to-grips with AI and its many subsets.
Many uses for AI
The uses of AI in healthcare are seemingly endless. They span the full spectrum of patient care and treatment, from drug discovery and repurposing to clinical trials, treatment adherence and remote monitoring. AI’s particular strength lies in highly computerised, manual work that can be easily automated. With it doing the legwork, this frees up practitioners to focus on human tasks like speaking with patients.
Matching donors and patients
Some notable examples of AI’s potential include organ donation. Matching patients with donors can be a time-consuming and inaccurate process. Through AI, more matches can be carried out in a short timeframe, compared to when a human has to manually scour the donor and patient database or find a suitable family member donor. Plus, patients can procure donors from a wide range of possible contacts, those who aren’t a biological fit, because AI can quickly link donors to patients based on a wide range of factors beyond blood type and relation.
Another huge benefit comes in preventative care. Consumer health applications and the Internet of Things (IoT) are helping people track their lifestyle and fitness activities. This encourages them toward healthier behaviour and proactive health management. Additionally putting them in control of their own health and wellbeing.
IoT devices like the Apple Watch can also, in theory, provide healthcare professionals with timely and accurate data. Blood pressure information, for example, can be tracked throughout the day without the potential of ‘white coat syndrome’ skewing the results. In getting this data and having AI analyse it, professionals can provide more tailored care and advice, feedback and guidance on treatments and understanding what medicines are working.
Working together across disciplines
Of course, this is but a snapshot of what AI is achieving in medical science and so much more can be done when researchers, doctors, data scientists and other frontline health workers collaborate on problems and solutions. Because, ultimately, no data scientist can fully understand the unique environment of a hospital or doctors’ surgery. Vice versa, healthcare professionals aren’t going to be able to know all the ins-and-outs of algorithms and machine learning.
That’s not to say that healthcare professionals having a general understanding of AI isn’t important. To work effectively with data science teams, there must be a baseline understanding within the healthcare sector, of the key concepts and trends in AI.
The benefits of understanding AI
There are additional benefits to knowing a bit about AI. First, healthcare leaders can make more informed decisions about AI investments and the infrastructure required. This can help projects align with the organisation’s wider goals and also ensure that costs don’t spiral.
If doctors understand the abilities of a particular AI tool, they can also use it effectively in making decisions, diagnoses and prioritising tasks. They can use a tool to identify patients at risk of developing a specific condition, for example.
Changing culture and steering the direction
Additionally, having more of a grasp of AI can change the culture around adopting such technology. Typically, the sector has lagged behind in accepting emerging technology - as was the case with electronic health records. But embracing it early can push innovation and progress further. Shaping it in a way that suits healthcare professionals, patients and the sector as a whole.
As MIT economists Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson state, “So we should ask not ‘What will technology do to us?’ but rather ‘What do we want to do with technology?’ More than ever before, what matters is thinking deeply about what we want. Having more power and more choices means that our values are more important than ever.”
It can also help to reassure patients. Machine learning tools are increasingly being used in clinical settings and having a doctor with an understanding of such tools will lead to more thorough discussions. Some patients may wish to know how an AI has come to a specific decision. Doctors will have to communicate the training a machine has undertaken, the data it has been trained with and the algorithms powering its decision-making.
In any case, most patients still prefer human-to-human interactions when talking about their symptoms, test results and prognosis. AI is still mistrusted by many people, partly because they don’t understand how it works and whether it is accurate or not. They also feel that an AI doesn’t take in their ‘uniqueness’ and experience of a disease. With a well-informed doctor explaining these things, their fears will be put to rest and they can move onto to their treatment and care.
As vital as medical knowledge
As AI becomes mainstream in the healthcare setting, the onus is on healthcare professionals to invest in their AI education. Failing to understand AI is falling short of patient expectations, People cannot be treated effectively if their physician doesn’t know how their AI-powered tool works. In the future, understanding AI and medical knowledge will hold the same importance for practitioners.
So it’s worth learning about it now and keeping up with AI trends in the industry. For the good of your career as well as your patients.