Whether or not you’ve noticed it, artificial intelligence (AI) has become ubiquitous in our daily lives. The technology—which gives machines the ability to perform actions usually associated with human intelligence—influences everything, from the way we consume information to how we perform tasks. It can unlock our smartphones, suggest replies to emails, navigate the fastest route to work, and so much more.
But its influence isn’t limited to making everyday life easier—AI has also changed how we manage our everyday health. Here, we’ve outlined three of the major ways that AI is already improving how medical care is delivered.
Diagnosis and treatment recommendations.
It should go without saying that AI is not meant to, and cannot, replace the role of healthcare professionals. Medicine will always need the intelligence, interaction, and compassion of humans. However, AI does have the potential to complement these human skills, and guide providers down the path to diagnosis. AI’s ability to provide data that can help inform decisions and support treatment recommendations is arguably one of its most promising applications in healthcare.
Medical experts are already starting to use deep learning algorithms to analyze countless past records to diagnose heart conditions, detect cancer, and identify eye disease. Not only is this being done in the earliest stages of a disease—it’s also being performed with incredible accuracy. For example, a recent study found AI to enable the review and translation of mammograms 30 times faster, and with 99% accuracy. In addition to making radiologists’ work more efficient, this could reduce the need for unnecessary biopsies, as well as the stress and anxiety that come with waiting for test results.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also opened new doors for AI in healthcare, as many medical professionals research and test whether the technology can help identify vulnerable patients and track outbreaks.
Patient engagement and adherence.
How patients manage their own health is also changing, as an influx of new apps and tools tap into the power of artificial intelligence. Wearables and fitness apps have been helping users monitor everything from their heart rate to their daily steps and sleep patterns for a long time now. However, AI can take this technology to the next level by letting people know if something isn’t right with their health or an action—like measuring blood sugar—needs to be taken. Stanford Medicine is also currently conducting a study to determine if wearable technology can detect early signs of viral infections, such as COVID-19. By empowering people to take more control over their day-to-day health needs, AI is helping to promote better outcomes.
In the field of medicine, administrative work is a fact of life. But with AI, that could change. The technology has the capability to perform time-consuming tasks—faster and at a fraction of the cost—saving physicians, nurses, pharmacists, and other healthcare providers valuable time.
For instance, AI is helping doctors analyze and sift through scans, while flagging urgent findings for human attention and automatically scheduling follow-up appointments with patients. Technologies such as voice recognition and dictation are also reducing the time it takes to perform daily activities, like writing chart notes and filling prescriptions.
Therefore, one of the biggest benefits of using AI technology is that it could allow healthcare professionals to spend more time with patients.
It’s clear that AI is already being used to support numerous facets of medical care—from diagnosing diseases at the earliest stages, to empowering patients, to automating time-consuming administrative tasks. But this is only the beginning.
The full power of AI in healthcare is yet to be realized—and there are limitations, even with the best minds working behind the technology. But already we’re testing how it might predict the likelihood that a patient will develop cancer years in advance, guide surgeon’s instruments during operations, and give people in remote areas access to the care they need. There’s no doubt that AI has the potential to significantly enhance care in the years to come.
To learn more about how technology has improved medical care throughout the years, check out our timeline of healthtech milestones.