Imagine a doctor who can predict a patient’s illnesses in advance and prescribe preventive medication in the blink of an eye. Or a computer in a research facility, that ingests and analyzes complex drug chemistries using deep learning algorithms to discover new medications. For that matter, an integrated neural network in an eye hospital that scrapes patient data for signs of eye diseases. Or even better, imagine a chat bot app in your smartphone asking you if you still have the stomach ache from yesterday and if you would like to consult a doctor on a particular day.
While all may seem far-fetched, this vision of healthcare is not too far off. Thanks to recent advancements in artificial intelligence in healthcare. Artificial Intelligence (AI) has already made headway into various aspects of this industry and is poised to redefine the role of the medical practitioner and empower patients with matters concerning their health.
A new era of intelligent healthcare
Through the application of machine learning, data mining, natural language processing (NLP), and advanced analytics, artificial intelligence will assist doctors in diagnosing diseases faster. One of the most efficient use-cases of artificial intelligence is optimization of clinical process through intelligent matching. Which means that when a person feels sick, AI technology can check vital signs, analyze medical history and provide prescriptions. This will effectively free up doctors’ time and help them focus on more critical cases.
AI can aid in the search to find a cure for chronic diseases like cancer where research organizations traditionally spend billions of dollars each year. AI technology can bring down the drug discovery cost by analyzing huge data points in a fraction of the time as compared to humans. Machine learning can also help find critical indicators and patterns in medical imagery which the human eye cannot effectively identify. The insights gathered can also determine if a patient is at risk of developing the disease in the future. This can help doctors prescribe proactive treatment to their patients.
In the US, experts at University of North Carolina School of Medicine tested IBM Watson with a sample size of 1000 cancer cases. Surprisingly, in 99 percent of the cases, the platform gave the same recommendations as professional oncologists.
Stanford University researchers have developed an AI algorithm that can identify skin cancer. According to the results, the efficiency of this algorithm in diagnosing skin cancer rivals that of professional oncologists.
Google, through its DeepMind platform, is using machine learning to fight blindness by training a deep learning algorithm with a million anonymous eye scans. This will help spot eye conditions such as age-related macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy at early stages and might eventually be able to prevent 98 percent of severe visual loss cases.
AiCure is a US based company that uses AI on mobile devices to control patient adherence to prescriptions and confirm medical ingestion in clinical trials and high-risk populations. It determines if a user is taking the prescribed drug at the right time and is performing other tasks prescribed by the doctor. This can be useful for people with serious medical conditions and patients who might go against or unable to follow their doctor’s prescriptions.
Molly is an AI nurse developed by the medical start-up Sense.ly with the exclusive goal to help people with monitoring their condition and treatment. It uses machine learning to support patients with chronic conditions in between doctor’s visits. This AI nurse also provides proven, customized monitoring, and follow-up care, with a strong focus on chronic diseases.
Pharma companies too are also applying AI and machine learning to drug development and discovery. Boston-based company Berg combines AI and Big Data to chalk out new drug compounds that can be even more beneficial.
Potential impact on Indian healthcare industry
India, which is a leading pharmaceutical producer in the world, still lacks behind in the public health sector. Estimates show that India has a shortfall of 5 lakh doctors based on the World Health Organization (WHO) norm of 1:1000 population, according to an IndiaSpend analysis of government data. Doctors are stretched thin — especially in rural areas — to respond to the growing needs of the population. Lack of motivation to work in rural areas due to the absence of basic infrastructure and substandard maintenance of Primary Health Centres are looming concerns that threaten public health in India besides many other factors. That could soon be a thing of the past, if AI has its way in the Indian healthcare sector.
With AI making strides and becoming accessible to people using smartphones apps, it provides the opportunity to provide inexpensive screening to anyone with a smartphone. The applications of AI can prove crucial to hospitals in rural areas and medical centers that are lacking in human expertise and technical resources.
AI implementations in Indian healthcare, albeit in a nascent stage, have started picking up pace. In India, IBM has partnered with Manipal Hospitals to provide diagnosis and treatment to cancer patients. Watson for Oncology is used across 16 facilities and academic centers of the hospital where more than 20,000 patients are treated each year. With India facing an acute shortage of oncology specialists, this partnership will enable faster and better care for patients.
Bangalore-based startup, SigTuple has created a unique AI-based engine that can analyze blood slides and generate an entire pathology report without requiring a pathologist. This solution could be provided to people in remote areas and at a fraction of the actual cost. Further, computer vision can produce more and more accurate data in a nonlinear manner, thanks to machine learning.
The way forward
Of all the sectors in India, Artificial Intelligence is poised to disrupt Healthcare the most, in the coming years. The Indian healthcare industry stands to gain immensely from AI. AI technology is not about replacing doctors but enhancing their efforts to improve the overall quality and availability of health services. The potential gains and opportunities from AI are exciting, and new progress is seen every day. AI and machine learning in healthcare will fundamentally disrupt the healthcare industry which means that all stakeholders should be prepared to embrace and adapt to the change. Bottomline – the harmonious collaboration of man and machine will bring about a meaningful and long-lasting change in Indian healthcare leading to enhanced and precise treatment of medical cases, be it in urban or rural areas.
Courtesy: Ashu Kajekar,
CEO, 7EDGE Internet. The Economic Times