Opinion: The Impact of artificial intelligence on health care

Noel H. Nevshehir
Nevshehir writes: "Digital medicine is currently tracking down and destroying mutant cancer cells faster than ever before."

If there was ever an industry in dire need of increased efficiency, cost containment and improved outcomes, health care tops the list. Despite consuming 18 percent of our nation’s GDP—equal to $3.4 trillion in annual expenditures—it is responsible for nearly 250,000 deaths due to medical errors, poor record keeping and a dismal lack of shared data among doctors about patients in their care.

From blockchain technology to surgical robots, medical experts worldwide agree that big data and artificial intelligence (AI) will play a key role in vastly improving health care quality and delivery. Aided by advances in sensor capabilities, computational power and algorithmic ingenuity, the pace of medical innovation is accelerating rapidly.

To be sure, AI and big data are not the next best thing, they are here and now. Digital medicine is currently tracking down and destroying mutant cancer cells faster than ever before. It is also commonly used in operating rooms by doctors tapping into pools of data accumulated from previous surgeries to receive guidance from computers systems that have analyzed learned procedures that can be scaled up in order to make appropriate recommendations before, during and after treatment. So instead of depending on one or two local practitioners determining the course of lifesaving treatments, patients now have access to a knowledge base of thousands of doctors worldwide.

Another area ripe for AI is mental health. Researchers are developing new drugs and pharmaceutical combinations using machine learning to assess chemical reactions of anti-depressants among individual patients. They then tailor them to closely match an individual’s unique biochemical makeup. The results thus far are promising. In addition to detecting when a patient is veering off into a bipolar episode even better than a psychiatrist could ever imagine, these drugs are mitigating some of the wrenching side effects associated with traditional serotonin re-uptake inhibitors. Taken one step further, Stanford University has created chatbots to combat this debilitating disease. Patients feeling an aura can tell their chatbot how they are feeling that day. Using predictive analytics, the bot can quickly suggest coping strategies drawn from numerous cognitive behavioral therapies. Again, the results are impressive, reducing depressive symptoms by 20 percent.

We are far from Star Trek’s tricorder ability to instantly detect what ails us, but we are moving in that direction. Even in its embryonic stage, AI outperforms dermatologists in spotting skin cancer, helps pharmacists predict more effective drug combinations, and spots nuances on x-rays far better than radiologists.

Quantum computers uncovering newfound data have provided medical professionals with keen insights into disease mapping and prevention, rendered speedier diagnoses and treatments for patients, accelerated scientific discovery aimed at curing the leading causes of death in our country, and have also played a major role in predictive analyses and detection.

The opportunities that big data and AI present in vastly improving health care and the quality of life for ailing patients far outweigh the challenges. Together, man and machine are teaming up to exploit unprecedented amounts of medical information churned out by powerful computers and advances in integrated software technologies.

Noel H. Nevshehir is Director of International Business Services and Industry 4.0 Strategic Partnerships for Automation Alley.