Many Americans will need medical imaging at one point to check for a broken bone, or a brain lesion, or to diagnose cancer. However, this creates a set of challenges — vast data volumes that can overwhelm human analysis, introducing variability and biases in interpretations.
Artificial intelligence, better known as AI, is emerging as a diagnostic sidekick. Powered by machine learning, AI systems can rapidly analyze billions of images, detecting nuances, highlighting anomalies, and predicting potential health trajectories based on historical data.
For instance, during an MRI, the AI may swiftly scan images, flagging areas of concern, which helps doctors make the right diagnosis faster and more accurately. And this is just one example. With nearly 94% of healthcare companies now employing some type of AI in their models, the possibilities for future innovations are huge.
Will AI Fund the Healthcare Future?
AI is already attracting substantial investments. The healthcare industry plans on almost doubling its AI budget allocation to 10.5% in 2024, up from 5. 7% in 2022, according to a Morgan Stanley Research survey.
While the advantages of AI in healthcare are compelling — from enhancing accuracy in preventing medical errors to optimizing staff scheduling for efficiency gains — a cautious approach is paramount. Leaders must be sure that AI integration enhances healthcare and doesn’t compromise ethical standards or introduce unforeseen challenges.
Predicting Healthcare Needs
Imagine a healthcare system that not only reacts to illnesses but anticipates them. By 2030, AI will enable healthcare systems to predict individual disease risks, allowing for proactive measures to be taken. The emphasis will shift from treating symptoms to preventing diseases altogether. This proactive approach has the potential to significantly reduce the prevalence of chronic diseases, such as diabetes and heart conditions.
In the pursuit of proactive healthcare, AI-powered predictive care will take into account variables such as birthplace, diet, workplace conditions, air quality, and access to safe housing and a stable income. This holistic approach ensures a more comprehensive understanding of individual health, leading to targeted interventions and improved health outcomes.
Long gone will be the days of interminable waiting times in hospitals and clinics. AI is poised to streamline healthcare processes, ensuring that patients receive prompt attention. By optimizing workflows and resource allocation, AI will contribute to the efficiency of hospitals and health systems. This not only improves the overall patient experience but also enhances the productivity of healthcare professionals.
Networked Hospitals: A Paradigm Shift in Care Delivery
The hospital of the future is not a monolithic structure but a network of interconnected hubs and spokes. Hospitals will focus on acute care and complex procedures, while less urgent cases will be handled in smaller healthcare hubs, including retail clinics, same-day surgery centers, and even patients' homes. This networked approach, supported by a digital infrastructure and AI, ensures that resources are allocated efficiently, reducing bottlenecks and improving patient outcomes.
Governments, health systems, and private companies will need to join forces to ensure the interoperability and transparency of AI systems. The global nature of healthcare necessitates international standards that protect the ethical use of personal data, making collaboration imperative for success. In addition, collaborative AI efforts may be used for global data exchange, expediting scientific breakthroughs and helping stop or slow down the next pandemic.
Beware of Bias
Creating a solid plan for tackling issues like bias, and ethical concerns, and building trust will be key to integrating healthcare and AI.
Because AI is trained by humans, human biases can creep into data and algorithms. This is especially worrisome because it can make existing healthcare disparities worse, especially among vulnerable groups. The root of this bias problem is traced back to how data and algorithms are created, influenced by the assumptions and goals of the people behind them.
Historical disparities and inequalities contribute to gaps and mistakes in data. This, in turn, hampers AI's ability to give accurate and fair healthcare solutions.
One 2019 study found an AI algorithm that showed bias against Black patients, assigning the same level of risk as white patients when they were actually sicker. Black patients missed out on much-needed additional care as a result. The algorithm used the amount of health care spending to decide the sickness level of patients, without factoring that less money is spent on Black people with comparable needs.
To prevent such travesties in the future, health organizations must set strict standards, put in safety measures, and stick to ethical practices. This includes paying close attention to data quality, governance, audits, pattern matching, and manual oversight — a comprehensive approach to reduce bias and ensure ethical AI use in healthcare.
Also, healthcare providers must be open with patients about how data is used, be transparent about data collection practices, and make sure that the data information comes from reliable sources.
Opportunities abound in the future between AI and healthcare. Saving time, and money and potentially creating better accuracy in diagnostics can be an industry game changer. However, the key to success lies in maintaining transparency, adhering to ethical considerations, and cultivating a comprehensive understanding of associated risks. This strategic approach paves the way for fully exploring the potential of AI, while safeguarding against unintended consequences.