Technology boom. Big data. Digital Age. Inevitably, our world stands on the brink of the Fourth Industrial Revolution soon to be overrun with computers…and Artificial Intelligence.
As a unique computer system that utilizes natural language to emulate human learning, logical problem solving, and decision making, A.I is expected to outperform various human tasks from manufacturing to even driving taxis on the busy highway. But what if I tell you, A.I may soon become integrated in the medical field, challenging the traditional roles of our present doctors and nurses?
Already, the global AI market is experiencing a 56% annual growth, where by 2025, AI systems will be implemented in “90% of the U.S. and 60% of the global hospitals and insurance companies” (Forbes). Though alarming as it may sound, A.I withholds the remarkable potential to improve diagnostics, patient care, and drug discovery due to its algorithmic ability to utilize patient’s mass electronic health records in clinical databases (2016 A.I Now Report).
Regardless, let us explore some prime applications of A.I that may either alter our hospital experience for the better or worse.
Last August, for the first time in Japan, the A.I computer system IBM Watson revealed its astounding successes with cancer diagnostics. By cross-referencing previous patients’ genetic database, IBM Watson was able to detect a rare form of leukemia and identify a lifesaving therapy. According to Professor Arinobu Tojo from the University of Tokyo’s Institute of Medical Science, “Watson’s speed was crucial in the treatment of leukemia, which progresses rapidly” (Japan Times). Where it would have taken at least two weeks for human doctors, it only took 10 minutes to identify “which of the 1,000 genetic mutations were diagnostically important” (Japan Times). And today, where cancer misdiagnosis accounts for at least 40,000 annual deaths (John Hopkins report), the IBM Watson may indeed provide immediate and accurate diagnostics for oncology patients, possibly saving more lives.
2) Patient Monitoring and Care
Sense.ly’s A.I mobile virtual nurse “Molly,” naturally converses with patients about “pain, sleep, stress, and diet,” assessing them for risk and providing administrative advice regarding medication and symptoms. Moreover, Molly will provide personalized, long term assistance for patients with chronic diseases; this would not only save time for physicians and nurses, but also address the inability of the healthcare industry to monitor patients 24 hours a day due to its lack of resources.
But at the same time, there are concerns that virtual nurses like Molly may never fully attain the human intimacy with patients, along with its unpredictable behavior when faced with scenarios they are untrained in. For example, Dr. Sarah Jarvis notes A.I cannot read “subtle facial expressions” and “pick up on nonverbal cues” (Raconteur). Likewise, within the social setting, A.I may be limited in filtering patient’s personalities or emotions apart from pure empirical data that could perhaps result in miscommunication or flawed analysis.
Finally, the development of the Smart-Tissue Autonomous Robot (STAR) led by Peter Kim, a Pediatric Surgeon from the Children’s National Medical Center, has marked a major breakthrough in A.I robotic surgery. STAR successfully performed intestinal anastomosis in both ex vivo and in vivo in pigs; after analyzing the “metrics of anastomosis,” from “the number of mistakes that required removing the needle from the tissue” to “completion time,” Kim concluded that the “autonomous surgery offered by the STAR system was superior” to “manual surgery, laparoscopy, and robot-assisted surgery.” Though STAR is yet to be performed on human patients, its achievement in complex soft tissue surgery of pigs that already surpasses human skills is significant. As long as further trials are carried out to ensure safety and trust, employing STAR may prove to be practical for surgical purposes that require extreme precision.
Indeed, the growing prevalence of A.I will drastically transform the healthcare industry. However, we must still acknowledge the wide range of ethical concerns regarding accuracy, reliability, security, and privacy. Perhaps, rather than viewing A.I as innovative replacements, it is time we must find a way to work collaboratively with the emerging technology, monitoring its performance while utilizing it to its full potential.
-Sammie Kim 18′
(Featured image by Celine Yoon)