A.I. in healthcare: Risks abound, but so do rewards

Perhaps one of the biggest beneficiaries of modern technology is the field of medicine. However, now that we are in the age of artificial intelligence, how will it affect the healthcare industry?

IT in healthcare
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When you look at the potential artificial intelligence (A.I.) has in the 21st century, the medical field is one of the brightest spots. There are major opportunities for A.I. technologies to make a big difference in terms of health outcomes, reducing costs and improving convenience.

The problem is that, along with these exciting possibilities, an abundance of fear and trepidation exists over the unknown.

What's in store?

People love to talk about automation and A.I., but there's also a sense of hesitancy -- especially when it comes to something as personal and important as medicine. Do you really want something artificial working on your body or providing for your healthcare needs? (That's not a hypothetical question, by the way.)

Up until this point, we've gotten small glimpses of what A.I. can do in the healthcare industry. But we're only on the precipice of something greater. In three, five or 10 years, A.I. will have a much greater role in modern medicine.

The question is, what are the risks and the rewards? Let's take a look at a few different applications.

1. Telemedicine

Ask doctors or healthcare administrators across the country to name one of the progressive developments they're most excited about in the coming years, and most will bring up the concept of telemedicine.

Also known as telehealth, telemedicine is designed to help people with long-term healthcare needs live and thrive at home through patient-specific monitoring and remote checkups. The hope is that, with the assistance of evolving technology and A.I. tools and platforms, doctors will be able to remotely assist their patients and provide more comfort and convenience.

"There is danger, however, that the exchange of data between a patient at home and the remote clinician is lacking even the very basic security mechanisms put in place by other heavy lifters in the digital services community such as banking and personal finance," explains Michael Magrath of eSignLive, a leader in digital signature technology.

In order for telemedicine to truly thrive, robust patient authentication measures will have to be implemented and aligned with HIPAA regulations. This can certainly be done, but there's a lot of progress yet to be realized.

2. Treatment planning

Another exciting potential application for A.I. technology has to do with treatment planning -- particularly as it pertains to cancer and other serious diseases. IBM's Watson has actually recently launched a program that aims to provide clinicians with evidence-based treatment options in the most difficult of cases.

"Watson for Oncology has an advanced ability to analyze the meaning and context of structured and unstructured data in clinical notes and reports that may be critical to selecting a treatment pathway," explains Dr. Bertalan Mesko, who is widely known as the Medical Futurist. "Then by combining attributes from the patient's file with clinical expertise, external research and data, the program identifies potential treatment plans for a patient."

The exciting thing about programs like these is that doctors and patients are now getting access to more options. The result is (hopefully) better decision-making and superior health outcomes.

3. Monitoring patients

As you read this, A.I. is already being used to help many doctors and physicians better care for their patients after discharge. One of the leading platforms is MindMeld, which is being used in conjunction with Sense.ly's telemedicine platform to ease the burden clinicians typically face.

"MindMeld and Sense.ly are leveraging the latest advances in artificial intelligence to build customized virtual assistant applications for the healthcare industry," healthcare technology expert Jasmine Pennic explains. "MindMeld's platform leverages innovative A.I. technology and helps healthcare providers deliver around-the-clock access to medical expertise. Combined with the award-winning Sense.ly solution, the system can automate many of the most common patient services normally delivered by clinicians."

But this is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Of the trillions of dollars spent on healthcare in the U.S., a healthy percentage -- nearly half, in fact -- is spent on people who continually return for the same unmanaged chronic conditions. By using a system that allows for remote monitoring of these patients, healthcare administrators can free up their practices to focus on the acute needs of other patients.

A.I. is not a substitute for human involvement and interaction, but it's definitely a step in the right direction. The balance between automation and involvement is important, but tools like these should play a crucial role in healthcare moving forward.

Future defined by intrigue and trepidation

It's impossible not to be excited about the future when you study A.I. and the potential applications coming down the pipeline. But it's also challenging to anticipate these coming changes without a healthy amount of trepidation. Both emotions are totally normal and, quite frankly, those in the industry don't know what to expect.

The most important thing is that healthcare administrators, physicians and patients all remain vigilant and outspoken. This is the only way that safe progress will be made in the years to come.

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