Artificial Intelligence and Healthcare
We trust Siri to send a text and perhaps order a pizza – but do we trust her to prescribe our medications? Let’s take a quick peek at how AI is working in our hospitals and at the doctor’s surgery.
Your doctor may have already subjected you to the Australian designed smart stethoscope, but AI is having impacts across a broad range of healthcare areas. An ageing population combined with the availability of more expensive treatments, means getting value for our healthcare spend is a priority for governments around the world.
X-rays and Scans
At the heart of Artificial Intelligence is the concept of machine learning. And with machines, when we say “learn”, we mean “gets better results over time when given more examples”. Detecting disease in lung CT scans can be laborious. Learning from thousands of examples of both diseased and healthy scans, AI leverages modern day algorithms and processing power and combines them with statistical models. These can make light work of detecting which scans from new patients are likely to be diseased. This can free up radiologists’ time from routine tasks, allowing them to concentrate on the more difficult cases needing an expert hand.
In the US, the FDA has approved only one AI product for any application so far. The IDX system is used for identification of diabetic retinopathy – damaged blood vessels in the eye associated with diabetes. Once the disease is detected, the patient is referred to a specialist for treatment. The manufacturer claims that the IDX system has reached the same accuracy as a specialist at detecting the disease. Not everyone accepts this statement, with concerns being voiced about the validity of small sample sizes and questions over results for patients with multiple eye diseases.
London has trialled an AI assisted chatbot to perform triage for non-emergency users of their ”GP at Hand” smartphone app, which aimed to reduce hospital and doctor visits by providing clinical advice directly. The vendor claims it can achieve diagnostic accuracy as good as doctors. Proving popular and convenient, thousands of people have consulted the app. Rwanda also uses the app to provide cheap healthcare to its entire population.
View from the US
The US government is optimistic about AI applications in both the above areas of imaging and online services and also more broadly. Advances in cardiac imaging have the potential to avoid the cost and risk involved with invasive diagnostic techniques. With the right processes in place to validate AI solutions and to provide the right data to adequately train the systems, a large cost saving and benefits to the community are possible.
Australia and the future
The CSIRO recently produced The Future of Health report, a look at the health of Australia as a whole. We will need to leverage advances in AI for diagnosis and decision support, as well as find the right balance of regulation to protect patients while encouraging investment if we want to get the most out of this technology. If we don’t pursue it, we will be buying AI healthcare systems from countries that do.