Editor's note: This piece was written in collaboration with the MAA Center, an online resource for those who have been exposed to asbestos and those looking to learn more about it. Lauren Eaton is a Communications Specialist at MAA. We hope this piece will give you an idea of how data is becoming a part of every field.
From the smartphones in our back pockets to advances in the healthcare industry, technology’s effect on our lives is undeniable. The potential uses of technology seem endless, especially for healthcare professionals. One area demonstrating these ever-growing possibilities is artificial intelligence (AI). AI has the potential to drastically change the healthcare industry, from simplifying administrative tasks to more involved medical uses like improving early diagnosis.
Data processing and optimizing administration
Whether it’s general information or specialized test results, healthcare providers need to process and organize large amounts of information on a daily basis. According to a 2017 study by researchers from the University of Wisconsin and the American Medical Association, “Primary care physicians spend more than one-half of their workday, nearly 6 hours, interacting with the EHR (electronic health record) during and after clinic hours.”
AI has the potential to drastically reduce this time by making EHRs and other documents and processes more efficient. For example, AI could replace outdated office fixtures, such as fax machines, and other time-consuming technologies that providers have considered integral to the administrative process. Similarly, AI “virtual assistants” could also be used to process routine requests or prioritize a doctor’s to-do list.
Ideally, these changes will improve workflow, increase information accessibility, and give time back to providers. But how could these technological changes and “virtual assistants” help medical professionals in the examination room? And how can patients benefit from this new assistance?
From image analysis to aiding diagnosis
AI has the power to influence how providers and patients interact with healthcare. Previously, AI has effectively performed image analysis for specializations like radiology, but recently the benefits of using AI to aid clinical judgement and diagnosis have begun to emerge.
One healthcare organization in Iowa has even relied on “the first autonomous artificial intelligence diagnostic system” to detect diabetic retinopathy, a rare diabetic complication affecting the eyes. Though applications of AI aiding diagnosis are still rare, this specific use could expedite patient care and increase the amount of time medical professionals have with patients.
What AI could mean for early diagnosis
While it’s unlikely that AI will ever replace human physicians entirely, it is possible for AI to affect patient survival rates because of how the technology could influence the process of diagnosis. Researchers have already suggested that AI could have a a major impact on patient prognosis, especially for individuals affected by occasionally misdiagnosed conditions, such as heart disease and certain forms of cancer.
For example, an early cancer diagnosis can be invaluable because early detection may drastically impact the care available for patients diagnosed with rarer forms of cancer. This is especially true for cancers with long latency periods, such as mesothelioma. Mesothelioma patients often begin showing symptoms anywhere from 10 to 50 years after their initial exposure to cancer causing substances like asbestos. This is especially dangerous because early symptoms are often mistaken for more common illnesses, such as the flu, pneumonia, or lung cancer.
So what does AI mean for healthcare?
Though automation and optimization are useful, AI is unique because it is designed to mimic the human brain rather than relying on pre-fabricated algorithms. This is one of the major reasons AI could have a huge impact on the healthcare industry. Its ability to let machines “learn” could make it possible for technology to contribute in distinctly different ways from previous uses in the healthcare industry.
While AI can make certain administrative tasks easier, the role it could play in aiding clinical diagnosis has the potential to bring valuable insights to providers and patients. Whether it is an earlier or more accurate diagnosis, AI could help ensure patients are treated more effectively and efficiently.