Oschner Health is one example of a company using AI to revolutionise healthcare. Its system is able to accurately track patients who are at risk of cardiac arrest, and can determine when there is a decline in their condition. This allows them to be admitted into intensive care hours earlier than they otherwise would have been. They are provided with potentially life-saving care, before their condition deteriorated to the point where medical care would have been less effective.
Project InnerEye, in use at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge, is another solution which uses machine learning and computer vision for the analysis of radiological images. Designed to identify tumours, it improves the delivery of treatments such as radiotherapy, by precisely distinguishing between cancerous and healthy tissues. It can also better monitor disease progression during chemotherapy, so that treatment can be adjusted in line with how patients respond.
These AI solutions allow medical professionals to improve patient care and admittance time, thanks to their improved precision. This, in turn, reduces financial and manpower strain, improving the healthcare experience in the areas where this technology is being used.
This is supported by data from the World Health Organization (WHO), which shows that between 30 and 50 percent of cancer deaths could be avoided with prevention, early detection and treatment. With cancer costing the global economy an excess of an estimated $1.16 trillion a year, the impact of technology such as AI, is game-changing.
In the UK alone, for example, there are only 4.7 radiologists per 100,000 population, and this number will need to almost double by 2022 to meet demand. Because of this shortage, the NHS spent nearly £88 million in 2016 paying for backlogs of radiology scans to be reported – the same amount could have paid for over 1,000 full-time consultants.
“We are drowning in data in hospitals,” Kos states. “We don’t have enough human brainpower to deal with it all in a timely manner – which in healthcare, is vital.”
Using technology such as AI can therefore substantially decrease strain on healthcare systems, while simultaneously improving patient care and reducing costs, allowing doctors to spend their time on more complex medical diagnoses. Or, indeed, spending more time connecting with patients.
The human factor
Introducing AI to healthcare isn’t removing the humanity from medicine. On the contrary, it’s increasing it.
A study in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that doctors spend nearly twice as much time doing administrative work (49 percent) as they do with their patients (27 percent). In other words, doctors are spending more time crunching through data, sifting through and updating records, and analysing scans, than they are speaking to their patients.
In a profession where people are dealing with often traumatic, life-changing developments, this personal, human touch, is vital for the emotional well-being of patients and their loved ones. By using tools such as AI to free up more of their time, healthcare professionals can focus more on patient interaction, offering reassurance, providing guidance, and answering more questions.
Culture, and the challenges of change
Motivated by the lack of technology during his critical care period, Kos spent eight years crusading to introduce electronic medical record systems into hospitals. But nothing improved.
“We digitized, but we digitized all of the mistakes too. Then it dawned on me – digitization is important, but it’s not transformation.”
Without the supportive technology of cloud storage, or the data analysis powers of AI and machine learning, the full potential of these digitized records weren’t even close to being reached. Only years after, when cloud technology was accepted on a wider scale, and when collaborative tools such as Skype or real-time document editing in the cloud were established – could this initial digitization move on to the next level.
Research has shown that an organisation with the most advanced technology still won’t be as effective if it lacks the right company culture. Employees must be willing to embrace their new tools, while leaders must encourage a culture of learning. Only then, can the new tools be as effective as possible.
In the world of medicine, however, adopting the right culture for technological change can prove to be a challenge.
“Healthcare professionals are rather inward-looking,” says Kos. “Doctors listen to doctors. It’s a very top-down, hierarchical environment. You could have the best technology in the world, but if the culture isn’t ready to embrace it with a willingness to learn, it’s just not going to work.”