How Artificial Intelligence is Being Used in Healthcare

Artificial intelligence (AI) is becoming more ingrained in our work and personal lives–and now, we’re beginning to see these transformative technologies take hold across the sector–reducing time spent on admin tasks and assisting with diagnoses and surgical procedures.

While the concept of AI has been around for decades, the field is still developing. However, AI is fundamentally changing medicine as we know it. 

In a 2018 Accenture report, analysts estimated that bringing AI applications into the healthcare sector could save the US healthcare system up to $150B annually by 2026.

So, how is artificial intelligence used in healthcare, specifically? Read on to learn more about how AIs helping medical providers make more accurate diagnoses and data-driven decisions about treatment options.

AI as a Diagnostic Tool

One of the most challenging aspects of healthcare is diagnosis. 

While certain diagnostic processes such as lab tests follow a relatively straightforward framework, others aren’t quite as cut and dry. Take, for example, an MRI scan. This process requires a trained professional to look at something and make a diagnosis based on their past experience and knowledge.

The problem is, human providers, and their limited capacity for knowledge leave significant room for error. 

As such, top radiologists can miss things in diagnostics imaging. AI leverages its unlimited capacity for learning, plus its speed and accuracy to review diagnostic images more effectively than human medical professionals. 

Radiology departments are already using artificial intelligence in healthcare, adding an extra layer of accuracy to their diagnostic effectiveness.

A research team based out of MIT developed a machine-learning algorithm built for analyzing 3D scans at a rate up to 1,000x faster than a human. For doctors, this makes it possible to study changes in near real-time, allowing for critical input during surgery.

Additionally, AI image analysis could eliminate the need for tissue samples, as it provides doctors with the same information without the invasive procedure. 

And finally, AI image analysis promises to bring better care solutions to remote areas with minimal access to healthcare. While telemedicine has been around for a while, AI stands to make these digital doctor visits more effective. 

For instance, patients might use smartphone cameras to send images of wounds, rashes, burns, and bites to determine the best treatment.

AI Robotic Surgery

Robotic surgery isn’t exactly new. 

In fact, technology is already used to support a wide range of surgical procedures. However, the robot has historically been controlled by a human. 

One of the most exciting answers to the question, “how is artificial intelligence used in healthcare,” is the use of AI in robotic surgery. 

With AI-based surgical procedures, the software can operate somewhat independently. 

A recent Forbes article illustrates the various ways that the use of artificial intelligence in healthcare has already led to quality improvements in surgical techniques. 

In a study that looked at the outcomes of 379 orthopedic patients, researchers found that surgeries performed exclusively by human surgeons resulted in up to 5x more complications than procedures that leveraged AI-based tools. 

Drug Discovery

AI solutions are also being applied to medical research. One such application involves using artificial intelligence to find potential therapies for treating patients by sorting through mountains of data. 

In this example from WebMD, they offer the example of AI finding a link between ovarian cancer survival and beta blockers traditionally used to treat blood pressure. This application might also be used to target public health threats such as Coronavirus or Ebola–and ideally, accelerate the time to market for potential treatments.

Brain-Computer Interfaces

One of the most exciting ways that AI stands to transform healthcare lies within the potential of brain-computer interfaces. 

Brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) are a type of technology used to connect computers directly to the human brain. BCIs aren’t an entirely new idea, as devices that measure brain activity have been available for quite some time. That said, most of these tools are one-directional.

According to Health IT Analytics, AI-driven brain-computer interfaces could dramatically improve the quality of life for those suffering from brain trauma or neurological diseases such as ALS. 

The article goes on to mention that BCIs could restore fundamental experiences such as the ability to move or speak in patients that have lost those abilities to a neurological condition.

 ‘If I’m in the neurology ICU on a Monday, and I see someone who has suddenly lost the ability to move or to speak, we want to restore that ability to communicate by Tuesday,’ said Leigh Hochberg, MD, Ph.D., Director of the Center for Neurotechnology and Neuro-recovery at MGH. 

‘By using a BCI and artificial intelligence, we can decode the neural activates associated with the intended movement of one’s hand, and we should be able to allow that person to communicate the same way as many people in this room have communicated at least five times over the course of the morning using a ubiquitous communication technology like a tablet computer or phone.’

Using Artificial Intelligence in Healthcare Administration Tasks

AI can also automate administrative tasks

Doctors often take notes about patients or procedures using recording devices, then pass those notes on to an assistant for transcription. 

AI can use voice-recognition technology to capture critical information and potentially, transcribe and input that data into the system on the spot. This capability can further expedite the diagnosis and treatment process by ordering tests and prescribing medications.

A great example that points toward how AI is being used in healthcare administration is the IBM-Cleveland Clinic partnership. The clinic uses IBM’s Watson to mine patient data and uncovers insights that help inform how physicians approach treatment. 

Watson makes it easier for medical providers to offer a personalized experience by analyzing thousands of documents using natural-language processing–which can be used to inform treatment plans.

Hospital administrators can also use AI to:

  • Optimize hospital capacity
  • Schedule nurse rotations based on need
  • Improve implementation of electronic health records (EHRs) 
  • Keep track of medical supplies

Wrapping Up

The use of artificial intelligence in healthcare is likely to increase as AI tools get better and better. While there are certainly some ethical implications such as privacy concerns to consider, the benefits may well outweigh the risks. By giving providers a path toward faster service, more accurate diagnoses, and the ability to leverage big data to identify genetic patterns, using AI in healthcare could dramatically improve patient outcomes.

 

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