Could artificial intelligence change healthcare as we know it?

Artificial intelligenceCC: Geralt at Pixabay

There was once a time when artificial intelligence was the stuff of fiction. Although it was a common feature in 1980s movies starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, few would have predicted it’d play a role in medicine.

Today, many of us are using artificial intelligence for our health. Mental health apps allow us to have uplifting conversations with bots that boost our mood. Symptom checkers are also becoming more refined.

Although AI is no longer alien to most of us, the medical world is still getting to grips with it. In the next two decades, that could all change.

Artificial intelligence in diagnostics

When it comes to excellent medical care, diagnostics is half the battle. Many doctors will tell you that the first 10 minutes they spend with a patient heavily influence the remainder of the decisions they make.

Although it’s unlikely that artificial intelligence will replace taking a patient’s history, it could tackle other diagnostic tasks. For example, reading radiographic images. Using AI, it’s possible to pre-populate a computer’s algorithms so that it can recognize some of the key abnormalities on a radiographic image. For example, spotting the tell-tale signs of a collapsed lung on a chest x-ray.

Similarly, there are moves toward using artificial intelligence to assess patient records. This could prove invaluable in ERs and primary care facilities, where physicians often spend countless hours trawling through a patient’s records. If AI can identify patterns, it could help direct doctors toward the most appropriate care, faster.

Virtual nursing assistants

A less palatable example of artificial intelligence in medicine is the use of virtual nursing assistants. Nurses’ jobs have advanced a long way since the middle of the last century. They’re now more focused on the complex aspects of a patient care, resulting in a need for more assistants.

Although a nursing assistant’s job is also valuable, some of their tasks become repetitive. For example, reminding patients to move, take medications, or attend a physiotherapy class. Using Alexa-style nursing assistants, it’s possible to free up human time and reduce the costs of delivering care overall.

Some people, understandably, may feel as though the use of virtual nursing assistants is impersonal. It also fails to address some of the soft skills an NA possesses, such as spotting when a patient looks paler than usual or seems down. As such, using this form of artificial intelligence is unlikely to be popular among everyone.

Promoting independent living

Excellent medical care isn’t always about diagnosing and treating. There are many social aspects to medicine, too. When someone is going through stroke recovery, for example, being able to use artificial intelligence for everyday tasks can help them maintain their sense of independence.

Some smart home devices already make independent living easier for those who require an occupational therapists’s input. They’re used for setting reminders, timers, controlling household devices, and shopping. As technology improves, it’s likely that the use of these technologies will expand.

As time goes on, artificial intelligence is likely to play a stronger role in medicine overall. At present, its use is in its infancy.

About the Author

Laura McKeever
Laura has been a freelance medical writer for eight years. With a BSc in Medical Sciences and an MSc in Physician Assistant Studies, she complements her passion for medical news with real-life experiences. Laura’s most significant experience included writing for international pharmaceutical brands, including GSK.