When we think about artificial intelligence (AI), chatbots and machine learning algorithms are likely some of the first things that come to mind. We might even imagine malignant forms of intelligence that steal our jobs or stage a robot uprising, à la midcentury sci-fi novels.
But AI isn’t here to replace us or threaten humanity. It’s here to enhance our capabilities, particularly when it comes to one of the most critical aspects of human life: healthcare.
Making quick, accurate medical diagnoses is crucial for medical recovery and survival rates. Patients have the best opportunity for a positive health outcome when the right diagnosis is made quickly, as clinical decision-making is tailored to a correct understanding of the patient’s issue. Of course, medical practitioners are prone to human error, and an initial visit may not ensure an accurate diagnosis.
That’s where AI comes in.
Cutting-edge AI algorithms can analyze medical images such as X-rays, MRIs, ultrasounds, CT scans, and DXAs, assisting healthcare providers in identifying and diagnosing diseases more accurately and quickly. What’s more, patients can use AI-powered tools for high-quality answers to medical questions. These changes mark a huge step up from simply typing your symptoms into Google and hoping to find the correct treatment for your condition.
The age of AI in healthcare is here, and leveraging its capabilities for diagnostic purposes is showing promise.
What AI Diagnostics Means for the Healthcare Industry
Although still in its infancy, AI-powered diagnosis offers enormous opportunities for healthcare providers, as well as the healthcare system as a whole. Alleviating administrative burdens and bolstering diagnosis accuracy can lead to better patient outcomes and greater operational efficiencies. Let’s take a look at some of the ways AI diagnoses promise to shift the current paradigm.
Improved Diagnostic Accuracy.
AI algorithms can analyze vast amounts of medical data quickly and accurately, leading to improved diagnostic accuracy. This can result in earlier and more precise identification of diseases and conditions, potentially saving lives and reducing misdiagnoses.
Efficiency and Speed.
AI can process medical data and images much faster than human clinicians, leading to faster diagnosis. This can reduce patient wait times, streamline healthcare workflows, and improve overall healthcare efficiency.
Enhanced Access to Care.
AI-powered diagnosis and telemedicine can extend access to healthcare and bridge gaps in access, particularly in underserved or remote areas where healthcare professionals may be scarce.
Personalized Treatment Plans.
AI can analyze patient data to tailor treatment plans to individual patients, taking into account their unique medical history, genetics and lifestyle factors. This personalized approach can lead to more effective treatments and improved patient outcomes.
By reducing the need for extensive and often costly diagnostic tests and minimizing errors, AI can potentially lead to cost savings in the healthcare system.
Early Disease Detection and Prevention.
AI can identify patterns and risk factors that humans might miss, enabling the early detection of diseases and conditions. This can be crucial for preventing the progression of diseases and reducing healthcare costs associated with advanced-stage treatments.
Reduced Workload on Healthcare Professionals.
AI can assist healthcare professionals by automating routine tasks such as data analysis, allowing them to focus on more complex aspects of patient care. This can alleviate the burden on overworked healthcare providers.
Let’s take a look at three real-world examples of how AI is helping healthcare providers make accurate diagnoses.
ARDA: Using AI To Prevent Blindness
Google’s Automated Retinal Disease Assessment — better known as ARDA — uses artificial intelligence to help healthcare workers detect diabetic retinopathy, a condition that creates lesions in the back of the retina. Undetected and untreated, this condition can cause complete blindness. ARDA can accurately interpret retinal scans to detect diabetic retinopathy. The model was trained by manually reviewing more than 100,000 de-identified retinal scans and is currently undergoing clinical trials in the U.S. and Thailand.
An AI-powered diagnostic tool from Google Health, DermAssist is a Class 1 Medical Device that helps users identify skin conditions. DermAsist allows users to upload three photos of their skin condition and answer a few questions. Based on what it has learned from millions of skin-related images, DermAssist searches for signs of various conditions in the submitted photos and information.
Although DermAssist doesn’t make definitive diagnoses, it serves as a valuable resource for users seeking preliminary guidance and insights into their skin health. For medical professionals, it can act as a complementary tool, aiding in the diagnostic process by offering potential conditions to consider during patient consultations.
Google’s Med-PaLM 2: AI-Powered Answers at Your Fingertips
Med-PaLM is a large language model (LLM) designed to provide accurate, reliable answers to users’ medical questions. It’s trained using medical exams, research, and user queries, and was the first AI system to answer US Medical License Exam (USMLE) style questions with a passing score. Med-PaLM also generates accurate, helpful long-form answers to consumer health questions.
Google has also designed a multimodal version of Med-PaLM, which synthesizes and communicates information from images like chest X-rays, mammograms, and more to help doctors provide better patient care. The tool has several modalities, including dermatology, retina, radiology (3D and 2D), pathology, health records and genomics.
Ethical Considerations for AI In Healthcare
Despite its promising outlook, the use of AI for medical diagnoses raises several ethical implications around patient privacy, bias and the loss of human touch.
AI systems require access to vast amounts of patient data, including medical records and imaging data, to make accurate diagnoses. Protecting patient privacy and ensuring the secure storage and transmission of this data is a fundamental ethical concern.
Moreover, AI algorithms can inherit biases present in the data they are trained on. If the training data isn’t diverse and representative, AI systems can produce biased results, leading to unequal healthcare outcomes for different demographic groups. And, although AI can certainly enhance diagnostic accuracy, there are concerns about the potential loss of the human touch in healthcare. Maintaining the doctor-patient relationship and ensuring that AI augments rather than replaces healthcare professionals is an important ethical consideration.
Despite its relative newness and ethical considerations, AI’s transformative potential in medical diagnosis is exciting to say the least. Improving accuracy, efficiency and accessibility in healthcare are all things the industry strives for — and AI promises to make this possibility a reality.