AI in Healthcare: Separating Hype from Reality

Stephen Dean

By Stephen Dean, co-founder, Keona Health.

If you were to believe all the headlines you read about AI in healthcare, you’d probably think that AI will be curing cancer and replacing doctors within the year. I mean, there have certainly been some exciting advancements. For instance, medical teams at MIT and Mass General Cancer Center recently developed and tested an AI tool that was able to look at an image and accurately predict the risk of a patient developing lung cancer within six years. 

On the other hand, Elizabeth Holmes, the founder of Theranos, stands as a prominent example of what happens when people blindly believe the hype about healthcare and technology. Her fraudulent claims about a supposedly revolutionary blood testing technology raised concerns about the oversight and regulation of AI and healthcare innovations, and ultimately ended with her being sentenced to eleven-years in prison. 

To make the most of AI without getting blinded by the hype, I recommend treating it like any other new technology: subject it to rigorous scrutiny, demand transparency, and emphasize responsible implementation. AI isn’t a magic wand that will instantly cure all ailments or replace the expertise of medical professionals. It’s a tool – a potentially powerful one – but it’s still just a tool.

Which medical fields benefit most?

Some fields of medicine will benefit from using AI more than others. For instance, the field of medical imaging and diagnostics has already seen the benefits of AI. Again, radiology departments can now utilize AI algorithms to analyze medical images such as X-rays, MRIs, and CT scans. These algorithms can identify abnormalities and assist radiologists in making more accurate and timely diagnoses. 

Another field that will benefit from AI is drug development in pharmaceuticals. Scientists can use AI to analyze massive datasets of molecular structures and predict potential drug candidates. This is much more efficient than having organic chemists sift through datasets by hand. AI can also expedite clinical trial recruitment by matching eligible patients with suitable trials based on their medical records. So, AI can accelerate drug discovery, reduce research and development costs, and bring life-saving treatments to market more quickly. 

Even more human-oriented tasks, such as patient engagement and remote monitoring, stand to benefit from AI. AI-powered healthcare CRM systems can enable personalized patient communication and remote health monitoring. These systems can send automated follow-up messages, answer patient queries, and detect potential issues based on patient-reported symptoms. AI enables enhanced patient engagement, improved adherence to treatment plans, and early detection of health issues. This frees up time for healthcare staff, allowing them to focus on more complex tasks.

Bringing distrustful patients on board

Although the AI hype has generated a lot of enthusiasm from the Silicon Valley crowd, your everyday healthcare patient might be a little more mistrustful. But healthcare is also at a critical juncture, and we simply don’t have time to wait for attitudes to shift organically. More than 90% of nurses say hospitals are short-staffed. We’re still dealing with the fallout of a global pandemic, with high hospital occupancy rates. It’s critical that we implement AI assistance if we want to continue being able to provide care at a high standard.

But with all the bad press we’ve been seeing about AI, patients will need to be educated on the benefits. Of course, healthcare implements new technologies every day, and we don’t necessarily have to educate patients over every new device and machine. But patients will likely have heard negative things about AI, and therefore might balk at the idea that their welfare is now in the hands of this supposedly nefarious technology. 

To bring patients on board, I recommend starting with patient-friendly brochures, videos, or webinars explaining how AI is used in healthcare. Make these resources easily accessible in waiting rooms and on the hospital’s website. You could even make them part of the patient onboarding process and have information available during online scheduling. You can also train healthcare staff to effectively communicate with patients about AI, addressing their questions and concerns during routine interactions.

Keep things as transparent as possible. When sharing AI-augmented treatment plans with patients, allow patients to provide input and express their preferences. And, of course, don’t jump all in at once. Start with a limited rollout of AI applications in non-critical areas of healthcare and gather data on patient acceptance and satisfaction.

The AI-driven healthcare of the future

It’s a critical moment for healthcare. While we shouldn’t be taken in by hucksters promising us the world with AI, it’s also dangerous to ignore it completely. We’re plagued by staff shortages – and actual plagues. Responsible, sensible AI implementation can indeed be a valuable ally, if you take the time to ensure it’s a good fit, and don’t just jump in headfirst for the sake of it. 

By approaching AI in healthcare with careful consideration and patient-centered values, we can maximize its potential to improve the quality and accessibility of healthcare services while maintaining the human touch that patients value so dearly.

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