An AI-powered app that listens to your symptoms and offers possible diagnoses to your health problems provides an insight into the future of healthcare. While it won’t be replacing doctors anytime soon, if applied correctly it has the potential to remedy many of healthcare’s woes. Right now healthcare is seemingly at a crisis point in both the developed and developing world—struggling to meet growing demand and at the same time seeking to reduce the cost of services.
One of the single most important impacts of AI will be its ability to provide access to healthcare beyond the four walls of a doctor’s surgery or a hospital. With growing penetration of smartphones in developing countries alongside existing mobile phone usage rates, almost universal coverage in developed countries, and the decreasing cost of data, this means that AI-based chatbots and apps have the potential to reach millions of additional patients.
In addition to increasing access to healthcare, AI-based services can reduce friction for those seeking help and assistance who would may not otherwise because many members of the population may not feel comfortable speaking directly with a medical professional (or be seen to speak to a medical professional) at the initial stages. In areas of healthcare that still have an incredible challenge with negative perception, AI-based services such as apps may lead to more people seeking help earlier.
Linking to Services
Once a diagnosis is offered, AI-based services can also link you to the right services to seek treatment and further information by suggesting appointment times or even contacting services on your behalf. This alone will have a large impact on improving outcomes in healthcare by decreasing time to treatment and also prompting patients to seek medical advice when they should. This will be particularly relevant for government-led awareness campaigns around certain issues such as diabetes, skin checks, and vaccinations.
Last year we heard about the use of IBM’s Watson in diagnosing cancer in patients which clearly demonstrated the value that AI can bring to the field of oncology where specialists are under growing pressure to keep up-to-date with dozens of new papers every week as well as dealing with an increasing patient workload (especially in developing countries). While not at the same level, a patient-facing application would be able to draw on a wider range of data over a longer period of time to make recommendations. Linking to included services such as Apple’s HealthKit and other devices that can track patient behavior as well as drawing on previous information provided by the user about symptoms, may lead to better outcomes with diagnosing illness.
Ultimately, the role of AI-powered services in healthcare will assist existing medical professionals to do their jobs more effectively and reach a wider number of people.