Today’s healthcare system looks very different than it did a few decades ago. From a shortage of medical personnel to the dramatic rise in technology used for both routine exams as well as more serious health complications, the medical industry has a lot to contend with.
The good news is that all the fluctuations in technology we have seen over the past decade or two seem to be coming to fruition. Several promising developments are in the works, with the most exciting being the use of AI in medical processes.
AI has the potential to revolutionize the way we think about healthcare, from providing virtual biopsies to extending the reach of modern healthcare to rural areas traditionally underserved. This article will explore the ways in which AI is poised to change the patient’s experience in a massive way.
Table of Contents
Challenges in modern healthcare
The United States faces several challenges in its healthcare system, one of which is that it currently spends the most money on healthcare in the world. In 2021, the US spent nearly $200bn on COVID-19 healthcare — including public health objectives — alone. Even this pales in comparison to the overall cost of all healthcare spending, which amounted to more than $4tn in 2021. This translates to nearly $13,000 per capita. This is nearly twice as much as the next big spender, Germany, with roughly $8,000 per capita in 2021.
Despite this extreme spending, health outcomes in the United States are typically lower than in other developed nations. Part of this might be due to provider burnout, an increasingly serious issue affecting physicians and nurses across the country. As providers become more and more burned out and it takes a toll on their mental health, the care that their patients receive naturally dips. This might contribute to the poor outcomes seen in the country.
Aside from lackluster outcomes, the United States also faces a clash of generations in healthcare. Different generations often want different things out of their healthcare experiences. Millennials, for example, typically want as convenient an experience as possible. They do not necessarily care to focus on one specific provider, but rather whichever provider can help them as quickly and competently as possible. Baby boomers, on the other hand, are more likely to want a dedicated primary care provider. The healthcare system must be adept enough to provide a patient experience tailored to each individual, and it often struggles to do so.
Finally, as already mentioned, one of the main challenges facing the healthcare industry in the United States is a lack of nurses and physicians. This is a growing issue that will only be exacerbated in coming years as older providers (baby boomers, for example) begin to retire and the number of new providers entering the field slows.
Regarding this last problem, the good news is that not only is technology making the medical industry a better place, but it is also making education a little bit easier. Instead of restricting education to students with the means to live on campus and pay full tuition, internet-based programs offer cheaper, but no less effective, college educations.
Universities like the University of Ottawa online programs selection, for example, illustrate the wide expanse of educational opportunities available remotely. Better educational programs make society generally more educated, especially in areas such as healthcare and technology. One of the degrees one can earn from here is an online master’s in engineering degree, which teaches new skills to go into careers such as chemical engineering, research analysis and network engineering.
Technology in healthcare
Beyond making education a better field for students all around the country, what can technology do for current challenges in healthcare? To a certain extent, AI might be the answer to all of them. Here is a breakdown of the many roles of AI in the medical industry:
While humans know an impressive amount, much of the brain remains unmapped. We still are not entirely sure how it works, and that includes how some neurological issues come to be. Some people might lose their ability to speak and move, for example, while others with the same condition might be able to do both to a certain extent. What if there was a way to map the mind without the need for fancy monitors, keyboards or mice?
AI is a cutting-edge development in the battle to create brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) that can restore the ability to carry out fundamental basics like interacting with other people. AI can do this by detecting the neural activity related to moving (or attempting to move) a hand or foot, for example, and then adapting the BCI to function with the brain in unison. This has the potential to improve the lives of millions of people around the world living with health issues like ALS, locked-in syndrome, stroke and spinal cord injuries.
Many of those who have had a health scare know that biopsies are a common diagnostic tool. From taking a sample from a suspicious mole to gathering tissue from internal organs, biopsies are an important, albeit sometimes unpleasant, reality of the healthcare system. But what if it became unnecessary to see a physician at all? AI has the potential to do just that. Cutting edge radiography tools will allow physicians to perform diagnostic imaging without the need for physical samples in some areas.
In addition to making the diagnostic process a little less invasive and unpleasant, virtual/remote biopsies could also make healthcare more affordable for patients across the country. Instead of visiting a brick-and-mortar office, paying for an office visit, and then paying for the materials and time needed to take the biopsy, imaging could be done remotely.
Improving access to healthcare
The United States is a very large country. While much of it has been ‘modernized’, there are large swaths of rural, underdeveloped land, housing small communities. These locations are so remote that they do not often have their own post offices, much less a doctor’s office. This can make it incredibly difficult to secure care, regardless of the seriousness of the illness, injury or situation at hand. Add to this the growing issue of provider shortages, and it can be almost impossible for some communities to access modern healthcare.
AI might hold the key to providing much-needed care across the country. By conducting some of the diagnostic tasks currently allocated to humans, the technology could move even more of the medical assessment process to remote care. This would allow rural communities to access healthcare anywhere they can find a cell or internet signal, which tends to be much closer than the nearest doctor’s office.
More accurate electronic health records that are easier to use
For many centuries, health records, when they were kept, were kept on paper. That probably does not sound too bad, but picture how much room a box of printer paper takes up. Now remember that medical records can easily contain hundreds of sheets of paper per person, sometimes even per illness, and therein lies the issue with hard copies.
The space needed to store health records quickly became immense, with many hospitals working with local libraries to create medical record archives. Accessing these also became a problem. Whenever someone needed to see their doctor about something serious, those records would be requested. Once they arrived, the visit could take place. The problem? Because they were not kept in the hospital or doctor’s office itself, it might take weeks for them to arrive.
The solution? Digitized/electronic health records. Even with electronic options, however, using health records can be difficult. AI is steadily making it easier to use, update and access electronic health records by utilizing advanced voice processing tools to create accurate reports based on the audio notes of a doctor (or other medical professional). In time, we might further expand this technology to ‘bodycam’ type technology that allows doctors to record visits with patients and nearly instantaneously produce updated health records without any processing time on the provider’s part needed at all.
Identify and contain antibiotic resistant organisms
Antibiotic resistance is a serious issue affecting populations around the world as well as across the nation. Resistance is caused by taking too many antibiotics without finishing the antibiotic cycle, allowing organisms to continue to mutate within the body. There is a reason providers remind patients to take all of the antibiotic pills, even once they feel better. Once they have developed antibiotic resistance, it becomes much more difficult to treat even otherwise simple infections with a round of medicine.
Using electronic health records, AI has the potential to detect patients that are at risk of catching infectious diseases that are antibiotic resistant as well as those who are likely to spread it. This, in turn, allows hospitals to refine their infection control standards before problems like clostridium difficile (C. diff) wreak havoc through the community of patients and providers alike.
Smart medical machines and devices
There is a lot of talk about ‘smart’ devices these days. From smart vehicles to smart refrigerators, smartphones are no longer the only intelligent devices on the market. These products are revolutionizing daily life in many different ways. Smart cars, for example, can actually detect when drivers are distracted and alert them to the road.
Another area where smart devices are making the world a little safer for everyone is in the medical field. Smart devices in the medical environment are responsible for monitoring patients in various departments across the hospital such as the ICU. These devices can help alert providers to a developing case of sepsis or a brewing infection before the problems become too big to avoid.
These devices make it easier for providers to do their jobs. When a mountain of diagnostic data is waiting for them and AI is already making sense of it before practitioners have even checked in on the patient, treatment becomes much smoother.
Think about the Apple watch or smart ring. These are devices that can detect vital signs and even track sleep and water levels without one doing much more than putting them on each day. AI is making it so that this technology can go a step further.
Wearable technology outfitted with the sensors needed to track even the most subtle of bodily processes can make treating patients much easier. This is true for a few different reasons. First, memory tends to be a fickle thing. Something that seemed like no big deal at the time might grow to be a life-altering moment in one’s mind as the years pass, for example, and something that happened ten years ago might seem like it happened yesterday. This is an issue when it comes to medical care — self-reporting symptoms and timelines can be difficult at the best of times, much less amid the anxiety and frustration that illness and injury bring.
Wearable smart technology, with data interpreted by AI, is the solution. Things like smart blood sugar detectors, for example, which capture patient vitals along with spikes and sugar crashes throughout the day, can make a huge difference in the treatment someone receives.
Increasingly, AI is being adopted as a way to assist with efficient healthcare delivery. With the widening use of revolutionary technology such as smart devices and wearables, it is becoming clear that AI is bound to play a significant role in the future of modern healthcare.’
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