Technology is driving a major revolution in patient care. These days, wearable devices and healthcare applications on smartphones are putting the power into patients’ hands, allowing them to be more involved in their healthcare and in improving their overall health and wellness. At the same time, robots are now making their way into hospitals around the world, easing personnel shortages and enabling better care for patients.
But these changes are just the beginning. Artificial intelligence (AI) is paving the way for smarter healthcare robots, improved drug development, advanced wearables, and a fundamental change in how we approach patient care, emphasizing preventative care over unnecessary interventions. Not only could AI applications in healthcare save $150 billion a year by 2026, but they could also help to meet about 20% of our unmet clinical demand.
Here’s what you need to know about how AI is already beginning to transform healthcare—and about what’s potentially ahead.
MERGING MIND & AI: SAME TASKS, BETTER EFFICIENCY
One of the reasons AI is changing the way the healthcare industry functions on a fundamental level is the efficiency it promises and the number of tasks it can assist with. Smart devices, for instance, can take over some patient-monitoring duties, even alerting medical personnel to the development of complications like sepsis in ICU patients.
AI is also making it easier for healthcare professionals to use EHR (Electronic Health Records), which are now standard in medical institutions of all sizes. Not only can AI automate some of the work that must be done to maintain EHR, saving time and preventing burnout, but it can also employ data analysis to predict patients’ risk factors or even help to contain antibiotic resistance risks by providing information on risks and infection patterns.
AI ASSISTANCE MEANS NURSES CAN TAKE ON MORE RESPONSIBILITIES
Because nurses can get assistance from artificial intelligence to complete routine and repetitive tasks, they have more time to work on tasks that require a human’s intuition and creativity. Instead of sterilizing equipment or rushing around checking vital signs, they have the opportunity to grow in their careers and potential advance skills like leadership and patient treatment.
Nurses who gain a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) or Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) can command higher salaries and do more fulfilling work. Many nurses are happy to give up the mundane, dirty, and often dangerous jobs that robots and AI are taking over. Though these degrees have more educational requirements than basic nursing certifications, they can be a big step up for nurses and prepare them for the future nursing job market.
EQUAL ACCESS NO MATTER THE COST OR LOCATION
It’s an unfortunate truth that many people around the world do not have access to even basic healthcare. Others may have insufficient care or many have to travel vast distances to see a doctor, on a regular basis if they are suffering from a chronic condition.
Telemedicine is changing that. Not only is it helping people in rural areas of the United States to get quality care without traveling excessive distances, but telepathology is helping countries with poor doctor-patient ratios and many rural areas, like Rwanda and Haiti, to get access to diagnostics and treatment for patients.
Long-distance diagnostics work with the help of apps and AI. For instance, a doctor can send a chest x-ray and AI imaging tools will scan it for tuberculosis or other issues. Although these tools won’t replace radiologists, they can be key assistive options in areas where there are few qualified specialists.
Everyone deserves high-quality healthcare, and with AI, doctors might not even need to be in the same country as their patients.
IMPROVING CARE & COSTS: HOW AI COULD BOOST THE HEALTHCARE INSURANCE INDUSTRY
In the United States, one of the biggest concerns for patients is the cost and availability of health insurance. We spend a huge amount on healthcare, much of which is wasted. In fact, 16.9% of the United States’ GDP went to healthcare in 2016. Healthcare costs for the uninsured are extremely high, yet many Americans cannot get or afford sufficient insurance coverage.
Fortunately, this is yet another area where AI can help. Because risk plays a huge role in insurance companies’ decision-making process, technology that could help make people healthier could boost the health insurance industry and lower costs for patients. AI is doing just that, by providing predictive information that patients can use to inform lifestyle decisions, personalizing medicine, and streamlining operations.
THE FUTURE OF AI IN MEDICINE: PATIENT-CENTRIC CARE
One of the most important roles AI has played in healthcare has been in creating a shift toward patient-centered care. Now that we have these powerful tools to help prevent and treat illness, our hospitals will hopefully be ready for the future as the demand for healthcare in the U.S. continues to grow.
What’s next for AI? With so many possible medical applications, it’s hard to say. But it’s certain to fuel even more improvements in patient care to make us healthier, happier, and to help our healthcare dollars go further.