How AI is transforming healthcare for the benefit of patients

AI stands to help more patients get cured at a faster pace than ever before, often at a fraction of the cost.

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Massachusetts Institute of Technology

The development of artificial intelligence has made staggering leaps forward in recent years, with products like Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa now dotting living rooms and businesses across the nation. While AI has wasted little time in shaking up the foundations of most established industries, the field of healthcare, in particular, stands to be fundamentally transformed by this burgeoning technology.

So what exactly does the future of AI hold for the healthcare industry? How are doctors and industry insiders preparing themselves, and what might it mean for patients' futures?

Harnessing the power of machines

More and more prudent investors are realizing that emerging data analytics capabilities are only the start of a forthcoming revolution. As health records are increasingly digitized, doctors and nurses will find themselves capable of ordering AI programs to sift through huge swaths of data to find meaningful trends that lie below the surface. Machine learning and artificial intelligence are able to perfectly archive and retrieve even the most complex sets of data, often doing so with greater efficiency than humans.

The increasingly large amount of resources health providers are dedicating towards AI and IT, in general, is a good example of how the industry is changing. While most industries spent 3.3% of their revenues on IT infrastructure and employees in 2014, one report found that healthcare providers are dedicating a larger 4.2%. This dedication highlights just how much healthcare providers will come to rely on AI in the future, as the more mundane tasks are automated and healthcare professionals are freed up to tackle more complex problems.

When trying to determine what the future of any given industry will be, investors' data is the best place to start. The venture capitalist has dedicated huge resources towards investing in health providers' IT infrastructure and in the future of robotics and AI. Over 50 equity deals were put into place during 2016 for startups that apply machine learning solutions to healthcare-orientated problems.

Similarly, a paltry $30 million invested in AI-related healthcare solutions in 2012 swelled to nearly $900 million in 2016, a staggering rise that’s left many investors clamoring to get into the business before it’s monopolized.

The big data revolution

Advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning aren’t occurring in a vacuum, either. Broadly successful developments in big data analytics have empowered companies from virtually every industry to better harness the potential of their information. Hospitals, like their counterparts in the financial industry and elsewhere, will soon gain astonishing new insights into their patients by comparing and contrasting them to thousands, if not millions, of others.

Imaging and diagnostics, two facets of healthcare crucial toward supplying adequate patient care, stand to benefit the most from the proliferation of AI technologies. Machines and programs will soon be able to analyze a patient’s entire medical history in seconds, searching a large database for effective solutions to their problems after easily identifying what specific disease they’re afflicted with.

Machine learning and AI will change the nature of relationships between patients and providers, too. Robots won’t hold grudges against difficult patients, and can’t be expected to go about violating patients' privacy by blabbering to friends, family, and coworkers.

AI will soon be planning patients' visits for them, identifying how long they’ll need to wait before coming in again and preparing them for critical surgeries. The impact on research, too, will inevitably come to shake the industry up. Doctors experimenting in labs will come to rely on their robotic partners in ways not even yet imagined, and can better train their students through the use of online programs and assistance.

Artificial intelligence is often viewed through the frightening lens of pop culture, harkening to mind images of terminators and immoral programs. The reality is entirely removed from these images, however, as AI stands to help more patients get cured at a faster pace than ever before, often at a fraction of the cost. Investors and health professionals who want to ride this coming wave should start familiarizing themselves with the basics of computer science now, to better thrive in the future.

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