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Artificial Intelligence in Healthcare: A Brief Introduction

Artificial intelligence has really become a prototypical buzzword, hasn’t it? And it makes sense - it sounds fresh, smart, and innovative. But few people actually understand what artificial intelligence is.

Artificial intelligence describes the phenomenon of machines demonstrating characteristics of human reasoning and thinking. Through AI, machines are programmed to react to circumstances with decisions or actions that help achieve specific goals. One of the coolest applications of AI is self-driving cars, which have the ability to process the user’s location and desired destination along with the road conditions. And what about computers that play chess and other strategic games, reacting to opponents’ moves in order to win?

While these are some pretty neat examples of the power of AI, there’s also a more practical applications that is revolutionizing the world: AI in healthcare.

Better Access to Healthcare

AI enables patients to access healthcare anytime, anywhere, and for a lower cost than with in-person appointments. The convenience of this access is immeasurable; users can monitor health conditions and user symptom checkers to track the progression or regression of worrisome situations. These apps are often programmed to get patients in touch with live professionals if their symptoms warrant a follow-up. The inverse benefit to these apps is that doctors and other healthcare providers are also freed up to deal with more serious, emergent cases.

One such example is Akira. This Toronto-based health tech company acts as a “doctor in your pocket.” It provides users with the ability to digitally chat with licensed healthcare professionals. They provide additional time-saving services like the ability to obtain a sick note without physically traveling to a doctor and assisting patients with specialist referrals.

Earlier Diagnoses

Early detection of progressive diseases is one of the most effective ways in preventing progression. AI can assist through its ability to “remember” unlimited amounts of data. In reading a scan, for example, AI can apply what it has “learned” from millions of previous scans, and possibly make a more accurate decision than even a trained radiologist or doctor.

For example, AI has been applied in China for earlier detection of lung cancer. One hospital has been using Infervision to diagnose illness and read scans such as CT and x-rays. Other apps used in the diagnostics space include SkinVision - which recognizes various moles and skin lesions to help detect skin cancer - and Morpheo which provides rich tracking data on sleep patterns in an attempt to detect sleep disorders.

Improving Patient Treatment

The ability of AI to leverage so much data can also improve patient treatment and outcomes. Predictive analytics, for example, gathers and analyzes data from current research trials, articles, and medical professionals, and combines it with information such as patient medical history and genomics. The result can be recommendations for treatment and care teams that are more effective than would be prescribed through traditional diagnostic practices.

While AI cannot replace live professionals in healthcare, it can certainly improve the patient experience. From increasing access to medical services to providing earlier detection of diseases, the application of AI in healthcare has only just begin. As AI technologies become more sophisticated, there is no doubt it will lead to more diverse and widespread use.