21 November 2019

Artificial intelligence – Opening new frontiers in healthcare

Curious to see an AI doctor?

My family doctor’s surgery

I enter my family doctor’s surgery and the receptionist whispers to me behind her hand, “Sorry for the inconvenience, but the doctor urgently needs an update.” She’s right: When I sit down opposite the doctor he just looks through me with a fixed expression and mumbles over and over, “All hypochondria, all hypochondria.” I have to give his metal shin a hefty kick, so he reboots and gives me a prescription for my flu symptoms. Sound like satire? Of course, it is, even if this is the sort of thing pessimists fear when the future of artificial intelligence is discussed. In reality, however, artificial intelligence has the potential to improve medical care without taking away its human side.

The good doctor

A good doctor does more than make diagnoses and offer treatment. The more unwell and uncertain the patients are, the more important it is for healthcare practitioners to inspire confidence and show empathy and understanding for people and their concerns. That isn’t something we can expect from machines and artificial intelligence.

What AI can do better

But for other tasks, humans don’t perform well at all, like when it comes to searching millions of datasets or comparing thousands of images. That’s something computers are very good at, even if the data contains errors or is incomplete. Artificial intelligence processes can even independently draw conclusions from data analysis and, for example, recognize previously undetected symptoms of a disease such as cancer in tissue sections.

Easier diagnosis

Artificial intelligence can function as a helpful assistant to the doctor in this way, by taking away the onerous tasks, searching global databases for similar clinical pictures, for example, or hunting through image and lab data for hidden irregularities. That means AI is already able to offer diagnoses and suggest treatments, but the final decision and responsibility still lie with the attending physician.

More opportunities

Beyond the question of diagnosis, artificial intelligence can help patients remain as active as possible despite their illness or disability. Older or frail individuals, for example, can carry smart devices with them, which will register unusual events like falls and summon assistance. There have already been successful initial trials to restore some mobility to paralyzed patients by equipping them with an artificial locomotor apparatus that they can control with their thoughts.

Final medical report:

  • Diagnosis: Medicine is clearly AI-positive.
  • Treatment: A culture of data-sharing should now be encouraged for the benefit of all, while observing principles of data protection to ensure individual well-being. For medical applications in particular, systems should be developed to ensure the creation of genuine Digital Companions.
  • Prognosis: Rapid development of AI is highly probable. But patients will not be required to kick metal shins.

Teaser Photo by Franck V. on Unsplash

Related Tags