Narrow artificial intelligence, or non-sentient AI, is now part of of our everyday lives. Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) recommends additional products based on previous purchases, Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) fills in search queries, Siri responds to your voice. More often than not, we trust the information we receive from these algorithms. But are we prepared to do the same when it comes to our health?
Artificial intelligence is revolutionizing technology, but also medicine. Here’s how.
Physician in training
At Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, physicians are training a new kind of colleague: the Watson for Oncology program. Developed by IBM (NYSE:IBM), this system helps organize a massive amount of data, the better to design treatment pathways for cancer patients.
“Just like we would teach a trainee in medical oncology or surgical oncology, we’re teaching the MSK Watson system,” explained Dr. Mark Kris, a lead physician at Memorial Sloan Kettering. Doctors feed information into Watson for Oncology, allowing it to learn appropriate treatment options. The system then consolidates this huge amount of data and reduces it to key decision-making indicators for other physicians to use going forward.
In that way, Watson for Oncology facilitates professional development, allowing doctors everywhere to learn from specialists. At the same time, it can improve the patient experience by reducing the number of medical tests required and allowing physicians to plan a more personalized therapy program.
“Having the information and the wisdom at your fingertips is going to make every doctor the most experienced doctor in the world for taking care of that particular problem,” said Dr. Larry Norton, the Deputy Physician-in-Chief for Memorial Sloan Kettering’s Breast Cancer Programs. “This has the potential of totally changing the way we conduct medicine.”
Watson for Oncology is a tool for physicians to use—but other artificially intelligent medical devices can actually do some of a doctor’s work for them. Consider another IBM project, the Medical Sieve. “A next generation cognitive assistant,” this product is intended to “reduce the viewing load of clinicians.”
The system is fed information so that it can scan x-rays, ultrasounds and other diagnostic images, then readily identify anomalies. Radiologists only need to examine these flagged test results.
Proponents say the Medical Sieve will reduce human error caused by eye fatigue and lead to better outcomes for patients.
Similar platforms will lead to less time spent in the waiting room. British startup Babylon has designed an interface for online medical consultations, using a hybrid of artificial intelligence and actual doctors.
Users enter their symptoms and history into the app and the AI instructs them on what steps to take next. These recommendations are doctor-vetted since, as with Watson for Oncology, the system is ‘taught’ by actual physicians who feed data and information in.
But if users need a prescription or face-to-face with a doctor? The platform includes the option to video chat with a physician.
Clinical trials get smart
It’s not just treatment pathways or diagnostic procedures that might be changed by artificially intelligent medical devices. Clinical trials may look markedly different in the future as well.
That’s because of tools like the AiCure platform, which is designed to improve and monitor patient adherence. Using a webcam and artificial intelligence, the AiCure app verifies that patients have taken their medication correctly.
Consider that a significant number of clinical trials fail because of patient non-adherence and the implications of this technology becomes clear. By ensuring that those enrolled in the trial follow complex dosage information to the letter, researchers can mitigate the chance their trial results will be deemed unsatisfactory or inconclusive.
Colliding with tech
Life science investors may want to get comfortable with the tech space. As the above examples show, more and more medical devices now sit at the intersection between the technology and life science sectors. Collaborations between traditional health players and the tech world already abound … and startups appear every day that have the potential to majorly disrupt this space.
Long story short? You’re going to want to familiarize yourself with all the ins and outs of tech investing. And we have an excellent recommendation for where to begin your research …
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Securities Disclosure: I, Chelsea Pratt, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.