A Diagnostic Divide: Artificial Intelligence in Medicine

 
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What if a simple computer scan was all that it took to recognize your inherent health risks before any signs or symptoms occurred? Sounds great, right? Now, imagine that the data gathered through this same scan would be used to assign a unique value that accounts for your individual risk factors, estimated healthcare costs over your lifetime, or even probable life expectancy based on identified patterns. Should a computer be tasked with the ability to assign a modern day “scarlet letter” that becomes part of your identity and potentially determines your worth to employers, insurance companies and society as a whole?

As computer learning technology continues to advance and uncover new opportunities across multiple industries, applications in healthcare and medical diagnostics have remained top of mind. Thanks to Artificial Intelligence (AI), computers can now recognize and identify certain health problems that doctors can’t always see. For that reason, scientists believe that AI can and will be used to make a positive impact on the accuracy, speed, and intrusiveness of current diagnostic procedures.

AI offers the promise of early detection through the identification of data patterns that code certain medical traits and recognize the presence of or a predisposition for disease. Early detection can enable doctors to use the huge quantities of patient data that’s available to take calculated preventive measures or make more personalized treatment decisions.

According to research estimates provided by Frost & Sullivan, the market for artificial intelligence in healthcare and the life sciences is projected to grow by 40 percent a year, to $6.6 billion in 2021. But with this growth comes inherent concerns. There are some ethical questions that will need to be addressed if technologies like Artificial Intelligence are to become more widely adopted as industry standards.

Will AI technology have the final say in your medical diagnosis or enhance your doctor’s findings? What if your doctor disagrees? Who will have access to the results of your data scans? Will matching with a data trend brand you as a substantial risk? How will AI affect employment, health status and insurance coverage moving forward? Where will the lines be drawn?

Fundamentally, the opportunity to efficiently identify, assess, and monitor your health risks before an illness or disease ever occurs could unlock a world of care opportunities that lead to better outcomes for all stakeholders involved. The ability to take a proactive stance would help to reduce redundancy and eliminate a large portion of healthcare spend that is currently allocated to cover reactive treatments that are often implemented too late. But there are two sides to every story.

Although the idea of a “scarlet letter” may seem extreme, without proper guidelines and policies in place, specific data about an individual’s heath could be used to effectively label a significant percentage of the population as high-risk, greatly reducing their ability to “live a normal life”, seek employment, or access high quality health insurance at an affordable cost.

There is no question that the commercialization of machine learning and big data is set to change how the industry diagnoses and treats disease, but before computer learning and AI become mainstream in the healthcare industry, health systems will need to gain a better understanding of how computers come to the conclusions that they do. Regardless of how cool the concept may seem; the ultimate goal of any medical research and development should be to guarantee that such technology is actually working to help doctors and patients achieve better outcomes.

What are your thoughts about Artificial Intelligence in medical practice?

Posted: 7/12/2017 1:37:08 PM
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