Technology is reshaping the healthcare industry. While doctors and researchers push the boundaries of medicine, advances in technology are changing the way patients and doctors communicate and how care is administered. Chatbots and artificial intelligence are two revolutionary technologies that are leading the way in transforming the industry.
In an interview with Techemergence, Dr. Matteo Berlucchi, CEO of London-based Your.MD, stated that 3 out of 5 doctor visits would be unnecessary if a patient had the right kind of information at their disposal. Dr. Berlucchi also said that once chatbots evolve, "we fundamentally remove the need to see a doctor for all those cases that required self-care." If chatbots learn to operate to the standards of a general practitioner, they can reduce the number of office visits by 60 percent.
Many chatbots are already geared toward helping patients with symptom-based diagnosis and allow patients to receive instant feedback regarding general health questions and ailments. They are designed to learn from thousands of interactions in order to increase the accuracy of their disease recognition. The goal is to be able to help people in less time and for less money than it would take to see a medical professional.
Diagnosis isn't the only impressive feature of chatbots. Some of them, like Woebot, can also serve as digital therapists. This type of chatbot is programmed to mimic human conversation by asking leading questions and allowing a patient to open up and talk through their emotions. Alison Darcy, founder and chief executive of Woebot Labs, told The Washington Post, "You can get things off your chest without worrying about what the other person thinks, without fear of judgement." This anonymity is a value all chatbots bring to the table.
What we need to keep in mind, however, is that chatbots are not yet operating at a true human level. The systems that have been deployed so far are still learning and therefore are prone to error. Also, most of them are text-based and can't recognize pictures or voices yet. But as this technology advances and the recommendations become more accurate and specialized, chatbots could save consumers billions of dollars on office visits and associated costs.
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Hospitals and doctors' offices generate and store vast amounts of data, including that from pathology slides, electronic medical records, wearable devices, and insurance claims. Finding an organized and efficient way to analyze this data is critical. This is where AI steps in. Using machine learning algorithms, it can spot patterns that elude human doctors, pushing the practice of medicine toward prevention through early detection of risk factors.
Food and Drug Administration (FDA) seems to fully support the assistance AI can provide. At AcademyHealth 2018, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD, said, "AI holds enormous promise for the future of medicine, and we're actively developing a new regulatory framework to promote innovation in this space and support the use of AI-based technologies."
However, the biggest change AI can bring to the healthcare industry is through security. It's no secret that healthcare data is very sensitive, as hospitals have access to patients' personal health- and identification information. Yet, most healthcare organizations have outdated computing systems. Mark Hurd, the CEO of Oracle, has stated, "Consider the fact that 85 percent of security breaches take advantage of system vulnerabilities for which a patch was available for more than a year but was not applied."
That is a staggering statistic and clearly a huge reason why hackers are targeting the healthcare industry more than others. In the past three years, 42.5 percent of all data breaches occurred in the healthcare industry, Healthcare EMR reports. In the past two years alone, 91 percent of all healthcare organizations have reported a breach.
The healthcare industry is in desperate need of having their digital security systems updated by experienced healthcare IT developers. And there is hope to be found in AI, too. According to Mark Hurd, "cloud-based autonomous systems will patch those vulnerabilities almost instantly." Hopefully, some of Commissioner Gottlieb's initiatives at the FDA include upgrading outdated infrastructures with AI auto-patching capabilities in order to protect patients' most valuable data.
Thanks to their machine learning-based core, chatbots and AI are naturally evolving day by day. The more qualified chatbots will be getting at understanding symptoms, the less often patients will need to make costly in-person visits to the doctor. Meanwhile, AI systems have the potential to make the healthcare industry more secure and efficient with the help of automated patching and data analysis. Doctors are already excited about the benefits these technologies will bring to healthcare, and, surely, so should be patients.