By 2025, the Association of American Medical Colleges predicts the shortage of physicians in the U.S. will reach an estimated 34,600 to 88,000 doctors. As the healthcare industry feels increased pressure from the growing doctor deficit, artificial intelligence (AI) is poised to pick up the slack.

The possibilities for its application make healthcare AI ripe for innovation, piquing the interest of entrepreneurs and startup leaders looking to solve one of society's most pressing problems.

The Market Is Already Growing

According to Frost & Sullivan, AI technology may already be an integral part of healthcare by the 2025 physician shortfall; in fact, the healthcare AI market is expected to exceed $6 billion as early as 2021.

And only once the industry invests in AI and begins to understand its power and limitations will it truly shine. "While it can learn on a basic level, AI doesn't rise to the level of human intelligence or pose a meaningful threat to human workers. Once you understand what you can't solve with AI, you'll see just what you can," K.R. Sanjiv, chief technology officer for Wipro, said.

Still, consumers around the world show an impressive willingness to integrate AI technology into their healthcare and disease management programs. In a survey commissioned by PwC, 54 percent of respondents from 12 countries said they were willing to embrace healthcare AI and robotics, and that percentage is continuously growing.

4 AI Innovations to Explore

The healthcare industry faces further pressure to lower costs, improve provider efficiency, and focus on value-based care; properly integrated, AI can help the healthcare industry achieve these goals. To do that successfully, the leaders behind some of the world's most innovative technology companies will need to lend a hand.

The time to get a foot squarely in the door is now, and these four AI technologies are just a few of the possibilities innovators should begin exploring:

1. AI for Medical Imaging

In 2014, technology companies trained AI systems to identify and differentiate elements of an image, such as dogs and cats. With more research and development, they could also train those systems to analyze patients' X-rays, MRIs, and CT scans over time to accurately detect, diagnose, and track specific health concerns.

Experts like Dr. Keith J. Dreyer, executive director of the Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women's Hospital Center for Clinical Data Science, say AI imaging applications could revolutionize disease management. By quantifying pathology from a patient's medical images over time, AI software can help providers accurately determine whether a treatment is working or other therapies should be considered.

2. AI for Drug Design

Designing drugs to address complex diseases, such as Alzheimer's disease and various types of cancer, requires collecting and analyzing vast amounts of data. By combining machine learning algorithms with big data, experts can utilize everything the healthcare industry knows about complex diseases for more efficient drug design and development.

Several healthcare tech startups have already begun exploring this. For example, biotechnology firm Numerate has created an algorithm-centric process that streamlines preclinical processes, including identifying relevant markers and nominating clinical trial candidates.

3. Open AI for Better Decision-Making

Data is essential for more than just drug design; it affects all aspects of healthcare, and the industry is gathering more data than ever before. Technology is already smart enough to collect personal health information through wearables and home health devices. To make that data more useful for providers and patients, AI software such as natural language processing can be used to analyze and categorize it in detail.

Known as an open AI ecosystem, combining AI algorithms with extraordinary amounts of data is one of the most promising ways to help patients be more proactive in their healthcare. Properly developed, the ecosystem could help patients make more informed, evidence-based decisions regarding their healthcare. It could also improve outcomes and reduce costs by helping providers design more successful treatment plans.

4. AI for Augmenting Human Capability

In the near future, experts believe the convergence of AI and other advanced technologies could grant us the ability to enhance human biology itself. Thousands of nanobots could eradicate diseases at their earliest stages or integrate with the human brain to augment its intelligence and back it up directly to the cloud.

Mark Minevich, founder of Going Global Ventures and a B20 Digital Task Force expert, predicts that this could usher in a brand-new phase of human advancement. "To put it simply," he says, "recent advances in big data, software, chemistry, biotech, and machine learning would be combined to provide humans additional capabilities that would be directly uploaded to the human brain."

"While we're still in the very early stages of artificial intelligence and therefore only starting to realize what can be achieved, we can already see how it will make substantial and profound contributions across the broader healthcare industry. The information that can be analyzed mining medical records through big data enables the industry to study patterns and create algorithms that will be used to improve patient health," said, YuxinZhang, Chief Technology Officer, Cloud Business Unit, Huawei. "From customized medicine and individualized treatments all the way to expedited drug creation, AI will be one of the most influential medical advancements in recent history."

The possibilities for AI to enhance healthcare in the U.S. are endless, and its advancement cannot come soon enough. More healthcare organizations are going to turn to emerging AI technologies, and entrepreneurs who help those technologies flourish now will gain a significant advantage over those who hesitate.

Published on: Nov 13, 2017
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