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Artificial Intelligence (AI) In Healthcare - Benefits And Challenges

Agnus Smith Published: August 22, 2018 Updated: August 21, 2018

Medical robot

You may have thought robots were the things of Sci-Fi films, but they may soon be coming to a hospital near you. AI in healthcare is a new and growing area of study that has the potential to revolutionize the medical field. Despite rapid advances in technology and pharmaceuticals over the past century, the actual processes of healthcare delivery haven’t changed all that drastically. AI may soon turn that all on its head.

There has been a growing buzz in recent years about the benefits of AI and where it might take the healthcare industry. The optimistic visionaries of the AI industry foresee a time when computers and AI will diagnose conditions with an accuracy and precision the human mind could never match.

As great as that all sounds, the challenges of AI are less discussed but every bit as important. The ability of a doctor to use human skills of discernment and empathy could be lost in this brewing storm of technological invention. Doctors are viewing the advent of AI with trepidation and caution, but also curiosity.

What is AI?

You have probably at least heard of artificial intelligence (AI), whether from fictional movies or the media, but may be curious what AI in healthcare would look like. For the moment, healthcare-related AI technologies don’t involve robots, or at least not robots that act as human replacements. Rather, computers with the ability to match and, in some cases, outwit the human capacity for diagnosis and decision-making.

A real world example, showcasing the benefits of AI, came from Google-owned DeepMind. The company has a scanner capable of detecting over 50 different eye-related conditions. Current iterations of the technology have an accuracy rate of 94%. Those numbers are every bit as precise as a human doctor.

AI in healthcare has had a market valued at around $600 million in recent years, but forecasters expect that number to climb to more than $6 billion within the next 3 years. If you are looking around your doctor’s office wondering what has changed and where this money is going, the answer may be right at your fingertips.

“Home-based diagnostics” is one of the many benefits of AI you may already use without even realizing it, including internet sites and health insurance tools that walk you through your condition until a possible diagnosis has been narrowed down and potential treatments provided.

The Potential Benefits Of AI In Healthcare

AI’s promises start with the patient medical record. You probably have multiple medical records, in fact, spread around the various providers, family doctors, specialists, etc., that you have seen. It is an outdated system and given the right tools, AI could bring together all your valuable health data in one place and analyze it.

It is hoped that AI conditions could be spotted early on, allowing doctors to treat and halt their progression. The biggest of all potential benefits of AI is speed. The earlier most conditions and diseases are caught, and accurately diagnosed, the easier and cheaper they are to treat. This leads to better outcomes for patients and longer life spans.

Babylon Health is one such company that is already showing results. The company has developed an AI chatbox up to the challenge. Their technology passed a medical exam with higher accuracy than the average doctor.

Another potential benefit of AI includes the eventual reduction in necessary subsidiary staffing, which would ease the growing financial burdens on hospital and provider budgets. Doctors could count on the supplemental help of AI systems rather than costly support staff.

Challenges Facing Artificial Intelligence

Like any new technology, the challenges of AI entering the health field are real. If you have concerns about computers taking over your medical care, you are not alone. The medical community is watching the nascent industry with a certain wariness. Doctors have spent decades developing universally accepted checklists and procedures, designed to keep patients safe. There is a concern that AI technology would not understand the value of these procedures, or bypass them all together.

As with any technology, there is also the question of data security. Patient privacy has long been an area of concern in the medical field. As AI development calls for the sharing of more data, despite the lives it may save, many are concerned that the data would be susceptible to cyber attacks as it moves around various networks.

The primary challenge of AI appears to be integrating new technologies into the current regulatory, safety, and privacy protocols. The tech industry pushes back at any claims of completely replacing the human side of medicine, arguing that AI in healthcare would complement, not substitute, a doctor’s human skill and touch.