In the public interest

AI in healthcare has garnered many headlines over the years. There are countless articles, analysis and reports highlighting a myriad of AI promises; delivering positive outcomes for patients, helping healthcare professionals in diagnosis, prevention and treatment of diseases and illnesses, achieving efficiencies in administrative processes, and even enabling virtual coaches that encourage behavioural and lifestyle changes as a part of preventative healthcare.

Ethics, privacy, security

The same concerns and challenges that are raised about AI generally, are also being scrutinised through the healthcare lens. The abundance of patient data worldwide and accessibility and use of it is driving the global debate on privacy, security and ethical considerations. The World Health Organisation and World Economic Forum have initiated discussions and committees on developing Codes of Conduct for the use of AI in health, healthcare and biomedicine.

Role and job security

The possible use of AI for or in certain healthcare roles and/or activities is stimulating discussions on the future of work in healthcare. The Health Foundation and Healthcare Information Management Systems Society are just two of many organisations looking into the impact of automation and AI on jobs in healthcare, and potential scenarios of how healthcare roles may evolve.

AI in healthcare

AI is already playing numerous critically important roles in healthcare. It is empowering, assisting, supporting, and complementing healthcare professionals, as well as improving and accelerating diagnosis, treatment and recovery.

Addressing today’s healthcare challenges

Without exception there is widespread acknowledgement that improving the provision of healthcare is critical, and that AI has a significant and crucial role to play in this. A report published in 2023 by National Institute for Health and Care Research, has identified 10 uses of AI to tackle five key healthcare challenges:

  • Detecting heart disease
  • Diagnosing lung cancer
  • Predicting the progression of disease
  • Personalising cancer and surgical treatment
  • Reducing pressures on A&E

Today’s healthcare challenges are also the consequence of significant changes socio-economically, environmentally and scientifically over the past couple of decades. These changes are placing new pressures on the healthcare system.

Advancements in technology and science has led to earlier diagnosis and the effective treatment of more diseases and ailments, leading to longer life expectancy and thus an ageing population. The increase in population is outgrowing the number of doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals whether that be physiotherapists, carers, mental health practitioners or a host of other healthcare disciplines.

AI-powered technology can, and is, helping to alleviate the pressures on healthcare services by complementing the skills of human healthcare professionals. AI in healthcare can accelerate education and learning, decrease the time to deliver test results, provide real time analysis and assist practitioners in personalising treatment plans for patients, to name just a few of the applications of AI in healthcare.

Healthcare is intrinsically human

The role of AI in healthcare and its positive impact on patient health is well documented. However, its adoption within the healthcare value chain must not happen without due consideration of ethical, moral and privacy concerns, especially given the enormous amount of personal data at stake.

Equally important is knowing that whilst AI has a role to play within healthcare, it cannot replace humans. It cannot replicate or replace empathy, creativity or innovation, and AI cannot give a reassuring touch, hug or smile when needed. Healthcare must be delivered humanely, using AI as one tool amongst many to complement uniquely human skills.

Practitioners, patients and AI

People are at the front, centre and end of the healthcare ecosystem and value chains. The effectiveness of healthcare is almost always spoken about in terms of how it serves the needs of the people seeking it, by the people who are dispensing it.

These two groups of people – practitioners and patients – are today presented with an increasing amount of information and it is difficult at times to distinguish fact from fiction, and exactness from exaggeration. This is particularly worrying given that the information either group is exposed to could very well be a matter of life or death.

Tackling information obesity

Healthcare practitioners are constantly learning, having to keep up to date with new diseases, illnesses, conditions, medicines, causes, effects, and treatments. They are also under extreme time pressures and expected to know the answers to every patient question. 

Patients now have access to all types of information and try to find someone who has not consulted “Dr Google” for information about some ailment or other. Swirling the internet is a mixture of fact and fiction when it comes to medical advice and patients want, and need, to have confidence in the authority, reliability, verifiability of the information they source.

328.77 million terabytes of data are created every day and RBC Capital Markets estimates that today, “approximately 30% of the world’s data volume is being generated by the healthcare industry.” They also forecast that “by 2025, the compound annual growth rate of data for healthcare will reach 36%. That’s 6% faster than manufacturing, 10% faster than financial services, and 11% faster than media & entertainment.”

Practitioner professionalism

Healthcare practitioners are expected to constantly update their understanding and knowledge of all aspects of medicine to provide the best patient care. This is a daunting and impossible task given the rapid rate of new healthcare information being produced every day.

Leveraging conversational AI solutions, practitioners can leverage the latest medical information, treatment and care recommendations at the point of care – real time. And they, and patients, can be confident that they are receiving the best, most up to date care and the best possible outcome.

Whether the healthcare information is in video, text, or voice format, conversational and generative AI solutions can be used to provide practitioners with the latest information without them having to search it out. All the information is analysed, summarised and presented to them, with sources referenced and verified – saving them hundreds of hours of ‘search’.

Patient empowerment

In the consumer and corporate worlds, digital technology has driven a power shift from the hands of a brand to the hands of customers. In healthcare, the power has shifted from fully in the hands of institutions and medical personnel to patients. This is due to the rise of technology and the accessibility of information.

Ensuring patients are accessing accurate, up to date information from reputable sources is critical for the provision of world-class healthcare. Enabling health literacy will empower patients to understand basic care needs and be active participants in care decisions. It has been said ‘education is the greatest weapon you can use to change the world’, and so patient education must be the greatest weapon to advance better patient care and outcomes.

Patients cannot feasibly, by themselves, navigate the millions of terabytes of healthcare data in a timely manner, and find the information that is most relevant, pertinent and applicable. Using conversational and generative AI patient education can be targeted, personalised and delivered in the format that will be most easily consumed by the patient.

Information, answers and recommendations that are the most up to date, verified and from only reputable sources can now be delivered directly to a patient, eliminating the need for them to spend hours searching and trying to reconcile conflicting information.

Human AI

AI in healthcare must have human interest at the centre. Leveraging AI ethically, responsibly and as a digital tool to educate, empower and engage practitioners and patients will undoubtedly advance healthcare and enable better outcomes.

Using conversational and generative AI to get the right information in the right hands at the right time will make the lives of both practitioners and patients better and the entire healthcare experience easier and more effective.