The Evolution of Healthcare Technology
Technology comes with countless benefits, one of the most important being the improvement and efficiency of modern healthcare. From better and more accessible treatment to disease control, we have:
● Electronic health records saving time and money as doctors quickly scan for patient information
● Telemedicine and remote monitoring tools helping people who can’t reach a health practitioner
● Genome sequencing helping us fight life-threatening diseases
● Sensors and wearable technology providing real-time information that can save lives
● Mobile healthcare apps giving us medical information at our fingertips
● Artificial Intelligence (AI) helping us where doctors can’t
Let’s focus on the last bullet point, Artificial Intelligence. A recent article on The Guardian said that advances in the clinical use of AI could have two profound effects on the global medical workforce:
1. AI is raising the prospects of making affordable healthcare accessible to all
2. AI is replacing medical talent, enabling faster and more accurate diagnoses
And now, let’s delve deeper into these two implications.
Artificial Intelligence and Healthcare
In a time when two-thirds of the world doesn’t have access to safe surgery, with at least 400 million people unable to access one or more essential health services, AI is making universal healthcare access a realistic goal. Both a blessing and a curse, healthcare technology is saving lives while condemning some to a life of poverty.
Wait, condemning some to a life of poverty? Exactly so. What are people in low- and middle-income brackets to do when they encounter a treatable life-threatening disease, perhaps a cancer of sorts? Unless they want to give up, they’ll most likely seek consultations and treatments. This is expensive as it is, but what if doctors can’t identify the specific cancer? That’s right, more consultations and treatments. If all goes well, they’ll end up cancer-free, but more often than not, they’ll also be pushed further into poverty because of mounting medical bills.
That’s where AI comes in to save the day. IBM’s Watson, an AI-powered supercomputer, recently cracked a medical mystery and saved a life with a diagnosis that had been baffling doctors for months. Backtracking a bit, the patient was a woman in Japan who had been suffering from leukemia. As no treatment proved effective, Watson was brought in to do what it does best, analyze data. Watson spent 10 minutes studying the patient’s medical records, cross-referenced her conditions against 20 million oncological records, and discovered that she had a varying form of leukemia that doctors failed to diagnose for months.
Shifting our focus to Google and DeepMind, one of its AI acquisitions, a five-year agreement was formed between DeepMind and a London NHS hospital trust to share data from more than 1.6 million patients to “save more lives.” The collaboration uses a mobile app called Stream, which alerts doctors to patients with signs of acute kidney injury in its earliest stages. Not only does this free up thousands and thousands of hours spent on paperwork and consultations, but it also allows patients to receive treatment before symptoms escalate further.
Healthcare Mobile Technology
As we just covered with DeepMind, AI is combining with mobile devices to create healthcare mobile technology. To exemplify this, let’s imagine two different scenarios involving a mysterious illness. In the first, John, a twenty-something man with a distrust of technology goes to his doctor and comes out empty-handed. He then heads to a hospital, and after numerous tests resulting in a hefty medical bill, receives a diagnosis of disease X. Now we move on to Jane, a twenty-something woman with a penchant for using her smartphone wherever she is. Jane decides to use the latest healthcare app to submit her symptoms to get possible diagnoses, one of which is disease X. She then tells her doctor what she learned from the app, who runs a few tests of his own, and agrees that Jane does in fact have disease X.
In a similar vein, NHS England began trials with an app that delivers medical advice on a smartphone. The app uses an algorithm to run a chat service that searches a database of symptoms, providing possible illnesses. Combining this app (or a variation of it) with our previous scenario involving John and Jane, we arrive at the conclusion that healthcare mobile technology can be utilized prior to medical consultations to save both time and money.
Mimicking cognitive functionality, AI can do what a doctor can and more. Not to say that it’s a cure-all panacea taking over doctors’ jobs, but as we can see with Watson and DeepMind, its integration in the medical field is redefining the ‘doctor’ role.
As we also saw with mobile apps, their introduction is creating positive waves in the healthcare industry. Before we conclude, our attention turns to ScriptSave WellRx, a mobile app that was named as one of the top “10 Apps Increasing Healthcare Access For Low-Income Patients” by Mashable shortly after its release. This app is an example of how technology is combining with healthcare to provide affordable solutions for those who otherwise would suffer.