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AI and Medtech: Where Are We Headed?

April 01, 2019 by Luke James

Technology is rapidly evolving and changing the nature of our world. Certain ideas and concepts that would have been written off as sci-fi fantasy nonsense a couple of decades ago—i.e. artificial intelligence—are becoming more and more common in our digital world.

Additionally, the IoT and cloud have made it possible for smart devices to utilise AI and machine learning to benefit organisations operating across all industries. One of the most exciting areas where AI alongside IoT will have a significant impact is healthcare and so-called 'MedTech'.

If implemented properly and responsibly according to regulations, AI solutions could massively improve healthcare and change, if not save lives.

As we start seeing more and more AI-driven applications, many of these will be related to healthcare and medtech.

How AI is Currently Helping

At present, AI is being applied to a variety of areas within healthcare. From the simple monitoring of vital signs to the prediction of potential medical conditions or complications, AI is diving deep with the analysis of our health—in some cases analysing our DNA sequencing—to suggest where life-extending changes could be made. It has even been said that such technology could detect dormant hereditary conditions before they develop and manifest into chronic illnesses.

It is not just monitoring where AI is revolutionising healthcare, though. AI presents a lucrative opportunity to reduce the burden placed on medical professionals such as doctors in new and unique ways. Considering that, in 2016, around 10% of deaths in the U.S. were caused by medical malpractice and other errors, you have a compelling argument for the use of AI solutions to take on some of the work physicians do.

Image courtesy of Catalia Health.

Take Mabu as an example. Mabu is a robot developed by Catalia Health to work with the American Heart Association. Mabu helps patients to stay on top of their treatment regimes at home by asking probing questions, providing reminders to take medication, and creating activity plans. This reduces the frequency of both the patient's need to visit their physician and for other healthcare professionals to make home visits.

Where Could AI Be Taking Healthcare?

While nobody can say for certain, there are a few likely occurrences that AI's continued development will have on the healthcare industry.

1. Digital Consultations

Digital consultations—think WebMD—have been around for as long as the internet itself has. With AI, though, there is the potential for them to improve, limitations to be lifted, and to become worthy of being taken seriously.

First, improvements in natural language processing will make it easier for a patient's problem to be understood and negate the need for them to select from predefined options. Second, deep learning and data analysis can help digital consultancy machines 'learn' and, over time, deliver accurate and more informed decisions about what questions to ask and what information and recommendations to provide.

2. Faster Diagnoses and Tailored Treatments

As more data is produced, collected and analysed through deep learning models, AI could help personalised medicine evolve from a pipedream to reality. One day, it may well be the case that AI-driven treatment models could analyse an individual's genetics and determine the treatments that are most likely to be effective.

At present, it is not usually possible (and almost always not efficient), at least for the public healthcare model, to provide a completely tailored approach to healthcare where treatments are tailored to each patient's personal history, risk factors, genetics, and family history.

3. Fully-Fledged Robot Surgeons

We have already seen robotics being used in operating theatres throughout the world, minimally-invasive procedures being a prime example. Could this just be the tip of the iceberg, though?

Image courtesy of The Conversation.

While robotics in surgery are currently operated entirely by humans, we have seen AI being applied extensively to robotic solutions being used in other industries—see the robot that can install drywall as an example—and it would be foolish to think that AI won't ever be applied to robotics used in a healthcare setting.

Healthcare is Not Immune from Developments in AI

The use of technology to aid diagnostics and provide a better quality of care is nothing new; AI and MedTech are simply extensions of precision and accuracy within the healthcare industry.

As further progress is made in AI and indeed technology overall, we are certain to see major changes shaking up the healthcare industry.

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