Artificial intelligence to assist physicians…

Medical progress is leading to an increasing number of patients, overwhelming medical practices and hospitals. AI could well offer a response to this difficult situation. Initiatives proposed by tech giants are set to improve doctors’ everyday lives in many ways. Today, doctors need to stay up to date with the latest developments in their field, including new drugs, clinical studies and regulations, while continuing to take account of their patients’ specific needs. This amount of information is becoming increasingly difficult for a single human being to process.

Technology players believe that medicine is therefore entering a cognitive era in which they have a role to play. Their new artificial intelligence solutions are applicable in a number of fields, including weather, transport and education, as well as healthcare. Their analytical capabilities enable them to collect data relating to the patient (medical records, allergies, state of health) and compare it with information from research and medical journals in order to offer practitioners a personalized diagnosis. They are also capable of suggesting suitable treatment and researching the toxicity and side effects of each medication. 

In the future, the application scope for these types of solutions will be vast. In radiology, they will be capable of detecting anomalies imperceptible to the human eye, while in oncology, they will enable advances in screening solutions – and all in real time, without waiting for side effects to appear.

… and patients

The benefits of AI will also be felt in the currently sensitive field of self-medication. Google has announced that 1% of queries entered into its search engine relate to health. Since it is not always easy to sift through the mass of information available on the internet, Google has decided to harness its expertise in machine learning (establishment of algorithms which analyze data to obtain predictive analysis). The solution, which is currently only available in English and in the United States, suggests a list of illnesses which can cause the searched-for symptoms, provides a description of them, and offers self-medication options available without a prescription and situations in which it is advisable to see a doctor.

This follows the trend for “quantified self” applications so popular on smartphones and tablets, which allow users to measure, analyze and share their data.

Risks and concerns

However, as promising as it may be, this data analysis is yet to be perfected. For example, the results produced by Google Flu Trends, a tool designed to assess the real-time spread of an epidemic based on web searches and their location, are far from conclusive. The tool underestimated the bird-flu epidemic in 2009 and overestimated seasonal flu in the United States in 2012-2013 by more than 50%.

Naturally, medical practitioners and patients need to have complete confidence when using these new technologies. The requirement for data security is absolute and must be reconciled with respect for patients’ privacy.

How will physicians’ role change in the future?

AI is therefore not designed to replace medical practitioners, but rather to support them. If professionals are able to draw on the depth of knowledge offered by these systems, they will be able to focus more on listening to and assisting patients. They will need to adapt to a new working environment and, while computers will never make decisions alone, they will be able to offer advice on diagnosis and treatment.

 

Although we are at the early stages of AI, existing and future initiatives promise a real transformation in medicine. By adapting to patients’ needs and difficulties encountered by doctors, new technologies could well revolutionize the healthcare system.