Looking at recent breakthroughs in AI, medicine, and preventative care, it seems the healthcare industry will likely become unrecognizable in the coming decades compared to what it looks like today. Breakthroughs in research that will one day lead to innovations such as lab-grown organs, designer babies, and nanotechnology present endless possibilities where tomorrow’s reality will match yesterday’s fantasy, all in our lifetimes.
Taking a long-term look, it’s hard not to become a bit over-excited. UCL, one of London’s most esteemed universities, suggests that cancer deaths in people under 80 will be eradicated by 2050. Notable healthcare technology entrepreneur, speaker, and author Robin Farmanfarmaian tells us that our vital signs will be continuously monitored remotely via subcutaneous sensors within ten years. These bold predictions do little to calm us down. There are strong ambitions in the sector to create miracles from science. Notable author and futurist Sir Arthur C. Clarke wrote in Profiles of the Future: An Inquiry into the Limits of the Possible that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” That was the third of his three laws regarding insights into the future. It’s the most often cited and widely known, and we may see the axiom play out in front of our eyes in the years ahead.
Returning to the present, it’s clear there’s a long way ahead of us to get there. Our health system continues to struggle with supplying quality experiences and often prices out many of the people it aims to serve. It’s difficult to see how we’ll ever realize the potential of those breakthrough technologies while still forced to grapple with crippling inefficiencies and a lack of resources. We must pioneer better use of data right now so that we can get to that place of advancement where it’s indistinguishable from sorcery. Only by using AI to connect the data available to healthcare providers can we take the first step on a roadmap where healthcare will one day reach that magical place.
Centralized healthcare data
You likely have apps on your phone where you can look back at every photo you’ve ever taken, every meme you’ve ever shared, and every witty or sarcastic thought you’ve ever posted. You may even be able to track the social reception to those things as measured in likes, follows, tags, and Retweets. By comparison, your health app is probably as much a stranger to you as you are it. Perhaps it knows when you last worked out. It might know your height or even your blood type, but the app that shows you your current wellness status, your appointments, medicines, vaccinations, procedures, and what your providers glean from those data points does not exist. Not yet anyway.
That’s not to say that Americans don’t benefit from the ever-increasing scope of digitized healthcare records, but these are often handled by different sites and apps, and often span beyond the boundaries of connected providers. MyChart by Epic has made considerable strides to try and address the issue, but there’s much, much more to do to create truly connected care. One app alone won’t get us there.
AI must be employed to join data together in a way that identifies trends and monitors patient health before urgent and emergency care and costly pharmaceutical escalations are necessary. In doing this, hospitals will become places where treatment can be better planned and administered, and pharmacies and practices can become more effective beacons for the administration of preventative care.
AI will enable a greater shift from cure to prevention. While AI cannot match the human capacity for creative thinking, it is exceptional at recognizing patterns (after taking in and analyzing thousands or millions of examples, of course). This is the technology behind the program that recently detected breast cancer four years before it developed. Last year, Google’s AI achieved a passing score when answering multiple choice and open-ended questions on US medical licensing exams. Google’s latest version achieved 85%, an expert-level score.
Given that sort of power, it’s no wonder that governments around the world are scrambling to invest vast sums of money into the technology for use in their own health initiatives. The UK Government, which oversees the National Health Service, recently unlocked £16m of funding for AI research, and in the US, many Medicaid programs have made significant investments in the use of AI to handle the difficult and fragmented process of benefits recertification by connecting multiple sources of constituent data and empowering the AI to coordinate and create efficiency. Healthcare, in some ways, most especially government-run healthcare, is often considered the world’s largest vector of inadvertent waste, yet we’re seeing it become one of its greatest points of technological investment.
If AI can make preventative care a reality for American citizens, then they will feel more in control of their health, and they will feel better. As it stands, most of us only think or talk about our health after we discover that something is wrong. Sometimes that’s simply too late, or leads to a longer, more painful, and more costly recovery. AI has the power to help people make sense of their health and feel more empowered and at ease when having health-related conversations before the body breaks down and demands them. This will encourage a proactive approach to wellbeing, reduce costs and waste, and improve our overall quality of life.
Better customer experiences
The most immediate and ultimately far-reaching benefit of AI may be improvements in customer experience. Some AI models are exceptional at processing language and automating conversations, meaning they can safely take the reins in a broad range of communication with patients. Whether it’s prescription reminders or prompts for home exercises after a procedure, AI can provide that extra layer of communicative care that human medical professionals are unable to because they are focusing on more pressing priorities.
As healthcare customers, Americans are becoming increasingly comfortable with using technology based on the level of care they’re seeking. The American attraction towards the use of digital channels for their health matters grew significantly through the pandemic. For example, 90% of patients say they would now use telemedicine for non-emergency health services.
AI can help healthcare providers better utilize digital channels to ease the burden in customer service and provide a higher level of support. Rather than relying on letters and phone calls with a doctor or other care professional during office hours for routine conversations, AI can employ automated communication that reaches patients on their preferred channel and remain poised to respond and guide whenever the patient is ready. More serious matters can be escalated to a human. This will increase engagement and encourage people to take a more firsthand approach to their health. Providers will benefit too, because this asynchronous digital communication can also provide more information about the concerns of their patients when it comes time for human-to-human interaction, which will help everyone make better decisions about their care.
AI technology has developed at a rapid pace over the past few years. It has become advanced enough to be able to aid in the sensitive area of healthcare. The technology already has the backing of business leaders – 54% believe that AI in medical decision support will be a reality in the next five years.
Businesses that employ AI to streamline data collection and make it accessible to healthcare professionals and patients alike will lead the culture shift in how we think about our wellbeing. It will help patients consider their healthcare as a preventative measure rather than about cures. This will reduce costs and make people more comfortable about the use of emerging technologies in their own care.
The future is bright and exciting for businesses, especially those in healthcare operations, that can harness the power of AI today to drive the breakthrough innovations of tomorrow.