The Growing Impact of AI in Healthcare

by Andrii Buvailo, PhD          Biopharma insight

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The advent of artificial intelligence (AI) in healthcare has catalyzed an epoch of change, reshaping diagnostic procedures, therapeutic strategies, and patient monitoring processes, as well as the very ability to discover and develop novel drugs and therapies.

The deployment of AI in healthcare has enhanced medical research and outcomes by facilitating precise diagnoses and fostering personalized care. With its prowess to rapidly analyze voluminous clinical data, AI aids healthcare professionals in discerning disease markers and trends that could otherwise go unnoticed. AI's applications in healthcare span a wide spectrum, ranging from interpreting radiological images for early detection to forecasting health outcomes from electronic health records. Through the strategic integration of AI into hospitals and clinics, healthcare systems can provide quicker, smarter, and more efficient care to a vast global population. Undoubtedly, AI in healthcare marks the advent of an era where quality patient care is merged with cost efficiency, and health outcomes are significantly improved.

The Growing Impact of AI in Healthcare infographic

While artificial intelligence is an old concept, which emerged back in the 1950's, the field of AI has been evolving with its ups and downs, going through several ‘AI winters’, caused by overly inflated expectations and insufficient maturity of AI itself, and various enabling technologies, such as computational power (e.g. modern CPUs and GPUs). The area of AI experienced what some call ‘exponential’ progress starting from the early 2000s and especially during the last decade. The three cornerstones of the modern day AI revolution are: 

  1. exponential progress in bringing (relatively) cheap computing power to almost everyone;
  2. exponential increase in the availability of quality ‘big data’ of many kinds (texts, videos, scientific data, etc); 
  3. Finally, there is substantial progress in AI algorithms themselves -- the emergence of many deep learning algorithms and architectures, including convolution neural networks, GANs, advanced NLP models, and lately -- transformers, based on their attention mechanism. 

The advent of artificial intelligence in healthcare traces back to the 1970s with the development of MYCIN, an early rule-based AI system designed to identify bacterial infections and suggest appropriate antibiotics. Subsequent years saw the establishment of expert systems, sophisticated rule-based AIs used extensively in clinical decision-making. Despite their promise, these systems faced challenges in integrating with clinical workflows and electronic health record systems. By the late 20th century, machine learning technologies began to emerge, paving the way for today's advanced AI healthcare applications. 

‘Modern’ AI in healthcare transformation was marked by many advances, including a well-known IBM's Watson AI system, renowned for its quick and accurate question-answering capabilities. In 2011, IBM introduced a healthcare-specific version of Watson, emphasizing natural language processing—the technology vital for interpreting human speech and text. Today, not only IBM but other technological behemoths like Google, Apple, Microsoft, and Amazon are making substantial investments in AI healthcare technologies.

Let's delve deeper into the various types of AI and the associated benefits their deployment brings to the healthcare industry.


AI in Healthcare: Machine Learning and Deep Learning

Machine learning is a salient example of AI and healthcare working in tandem. It is a versatile technique that forms the foundation for numerous AI healthcare technologies, each with its unique variations.

Machine Learning has revolutionized the healthcare system by allowing AI's integration into medical diagnosis and treatment. Machine learning algorithms can promptly process vast amounts of clinical data, identify patterns, and predict medical outcomes with an unprecedented level of accuracy. It aids in analyzing patient records, interpreting medical imaging, and discovering novel therapies, hence improving treatments and curbing costs. When AI technologies like machine learning are employed for tasks such as disease diagnosis or drug discovery, doctors can diagnose illnesses more accurately and tailor treatments to individual patients’ needs. Additionally, AI healthcare, specifically machine learning, reveals previously hidden correlations in health data or detects subtle changes in vital signs that could suggest a potential health issue. Health technology support teams work closely with clinicians to ensure machine learning models are properly integrated and provide accurate, safe, and effective decision support. Extensive testing and validation of machine learning algorithms is critical prior to deployment in patient care settings to establish appropriate functionality.

A typical application of traditional machine learning is in precision medicine. Predicting the likelihood of treatment procedures' success based on patients' genetic makeup and treatment frameworks signifies a major advancement for healthcare data science. The majority of AI healthcare technology employing machine learning and precision medicine applications require medical images and clinical data for training, for which the outcome is known, a process referred to as supervised learning.

AI in healthcare also employs deep learning for a wide range of applications, including drug discovery, preclinical and clinical research, translational science, and medical tasks, such as diagnostics, treatment plan development, and so on. However, features in deep learning models are often obscure to human observers, and without proper interpretation, the model's results can be challenging to decipher. As deep learning technology continues to evolve, it is essential for healthcare professionals to understand how it operates and how to efficiently apply it in clinical settings.


AI in Healthcare: Natural Language Processing 

The continuous progression of artificial intelligence (AI) in healthcare is reshaping patient care and pharmaceutical advancement. One of the critical areas of this transformation is natural language processing (NLP), a specialized branch of AI. The capacity of NLP to decode and scrutinize an extensive range of unstructured textual data—from patient records and scientific papers to patient experiences—has notably augmented the efficiency and accuracy of diagnoses, treatment strategies, and overall patient care. Concurrently, within drug discovery, NLP facilitates the processing of intricate biochemical data and scholarly articles, enhancing the comprehension of drug-pathology correlations by identifying patterns that conventional approaches might overlook.

Recently, the emergence of Large Language Models (LLMs) has marked a significant milestone in AI, with noteworthy implications for healthcare and life sciences. These models, developed from a wide array of internet text, can mimic human language, answer queries, translate languages, and even adopt a specific writing style. Yet, the game-changing breakthrough lies in the development of bespoke LLMs for healthcare and life sciences. These models, trained on a plethora of scientific literature, clinical trial data, and other sector-specific texts, are proficient at understanding and generating content related to intricate biomedical concepts and methodologies. The utilization of these specialized LLMs is revitalizing various facets of healthcare, from improving patient interactions to assisting in genomic sequence analysis. The integration of LLMs into healthcare and life sciences underscores the transformative potential of AI within these sectors, pointing towards a future of enhanced healthcare outcomes and expedited scientific exploration.


Examples of AI application in healthcare

AI is a foundational technology, meaning that it is not augmenting one or several particular areas of medicine. Rather, it touches in one way or another almost every aspect of not only drug discovery and translational research, but also healthcare operations, clinical practice, and diagnostics. 


AI in Diagnostics

Artificial intelligence (AI) is revolutionizing diagnostic procedures in healthcare. Machine learning algorithms, in particular, are frequently employed to analyze large data sets, such as medical imaging or patient health records. This analysis can lead to early detection of diseases like cancer or heart conditions, greatly improving patient outcomes. By identifying patterns and irregularities within the data that may be missed by the human eye, AI aids in precision diagnostics.

Further reading: 


AI in Drug Discovery and Preclinical Research

In the realm of preclinical research, AI is being employed to streamline drug discovery and development. Machine learning algorithms can analyze vast biochemical datasets, identifying potential compounds for new drugs faster and more accurately than traditional methods. AI also plays a pivotal role in toxicity prediction, improving the safety profile of new drug candidates.

Further reading: 


AI in Clinical and Translational Research

Clinical and translational research is another domain in which AI is making notable strides. AI can help in patient recruitment for clinical trials by identifying suitable candidates based on specific criteria from extensive electronic health records. Moreover, advanced AI algorithms can aid in the analysis of data from ongoing trials, potentially identifying patterns or correlations that could expedite the translational process from research to patient care.

Further reading: 


AI in Precision Medicine

In the sphere of precision medicine, AI is assisting in tailoring treatments to an individual's unique genetic makeup. By analyzing an individual's genomic data, AI can suggest personalized treatment plans, increasing their efficacy while minimizing side effects. AI's potential in genomics is not only revolutionizing treatment strategies but also paving the way for predictive medicine, enabling the detection of genetic predispositions to certain diseases:

Further reading: 


AI in Clinical Operations

Clinical operations in healthcare facilities have also significantly benefited from AI implementation. Automation of administrative tasks, such as appointment scheduling, patient record management, and billing, frees up healthcare professionals' time, allowing them to concentrate on patient care. Furthermore, predictive analytics, a facet of AI, assists in resource management, predicting patient flow, and optimizing hospital bed occupancy rates.


Challenges for AI in Healthcare

As healthcare organizations increasingly invest in AI for various tasks, technology-related challenges must be addressed. These challenges encompass several ethical and regulatory issues that may not be applicable elsewhere.

The most pressing challenges include data privacy and security, patient safety and accuracy, training algorithms to recognize patterns in medical data, integrating AI with existing IT systems, gaining physician acceptance and trust, and ensuring compliance with federal regulations. Data privacy is especially important as AI systems collect vast amounts of personal health information, which could be misused if not managed correctly. In addition, adequate security measures must be implemented to protect sensitive patient data from exploitation for malicious purposes.

Patient safety and accuracy are also critical concerns when implementing AI in healthcare. AI systems need to be trained to recognize patterns in medical data, understand the relationships between various diagnoses and treatments, and provide accurate recommendations tailored to each patient. Further, integrating AI with existing IT systems can add complexity for medical providers as it requires an in-depth understanding of how the existing technology functions to ensure seamless operation.

Finally, gaining acceptance and trust from medical providers is crucial for successful AI adoption in healthcare. Physicians need to be confident that the AI system provides reliable advice and won't lead them astray. This requirement means transparency is essential—physicians should understand how the AI system makes decisions so they can be certain it uses valid, up-to-date medical research. Additionally, compliance with federal regulations is mandatory to ensure that AI systems are used ethically and don't jeopardize patient safety.


The Future of AI in Healthcare

As AI in healthcare has grown in its capabilities, its use to improve medical practices has become increasingly viable. With the development of AI-powered medical tools and intelligent algorithms capable of interpreting large datasets, the potential for using AI in healthcare is boundless. Deep learning AI can help detect diseases faster, provide personalized treatment plans, and even automate certain processes like drug discovery or diagnostics. It also holds promise for improving patient outcomes, increasing safety, and reducing costs associated with healthcare delivery.

The future of AI in healthcare is undoubtedly bright and filled with opportunities for further innovation. As we transition into a more digitally connected world, the use of AI in the healthcare industry will become an invaluable asset, potentially reshaping how doctors treat patients and deliver care. With such great potential, it's clear that the use of AI in healthcare holds the promise of a future filled with advancements, improved health outcomes, and enhanced patient experiences.

The greatest challenge to AI in healthcare is not whether the technologies will be competent enough to be useful, but rather ensuring its adoption in daily clinical practice. Over time, medical professionals may shift toward tasks that require unique human skills, tasks that demand the highest level of cognitive function. Perhaps the only healthcare providers who might not fully benefit from AI in healthcare may be those who refuse to work alongside it.

Topics: Industry Trends   

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