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AI is Expected to Bring in the Next Revolution in Healthcare

AI may potentially add $957 billion to the Indian economy by 2035 and investment in AI in the Indian healthcare industry appears to be growing. The focus of most AI-based healthcare initiatives in India has been to extend medical services to traditionally underserved sections of the society.

According to a recent report by business analyst firm Frost & Sullivan, artificial intelligence and cognitive computing are expected to generate savings of over $150 billion for the healthcare sector by 2025. 

Although warning signals have been raised from few corners about the consequences of AI, it is interesting to see its impact in an industry as crucial to human survival as healthcare.

AI healthcare market is seeing an explosive growth, with a CAGR of 40% through 2021. Growth is perhaps no surprise as AI delivers what many healthcare organizations today need. According to an analysis by Accenture, the top three applications that represent the greatest near-term value are robot-assisted surgery ($40 billion), virtual nursing assistants ($20 billion) and administrative workflow assistance ($18 billion), with some other popular AI applications in healthcare being Fraud detection in Claims, Preliminary diagnosis, Dosage error reduction, Automated image diagnosis, and physician selection in clinical trials.


The Economic Times

Publish Date

September 26, 2018


Mrinal Sinha

How is AI transforming the healthcare Industry

AI Assisted Robotic Surgery - Robots can analyze data from pre-operation medical records to guide a surgeon's instrument during surgery. AI-assisted robotic procedure resulted in five times fewer complications compared to surgeons operating alone. The most advanced surgical robot, the ‘Da Vinci’ allows doctors to perform complex procedures with greater control than conventional approaches.

Virtual Nursing Assistance - When AI solutions remotely assess a patient’s symptoms and deliver alerts to clinicians only when patient care is needed, it reduces unnecessary hospital visits. It can also lessen the burden on medical professionals. E.g., the Arthritis Virtual Assistant developed by IBM for Arthritis Research UK is learning to provide personalized information and advice concerning medicines, diet and exercise through interactions with patients.

Timesaving administrative workflow assistant capabilities— such as voice-to-text transcription eliminate non-patient care activities including writing chart notes, prescriptions and ordering tests.

Image Analysis - IDx LLC software analyses images of the eye taken by a camera and tells the doctor accurately about the extent of the disease, called diabetic retinopathy.

Diagnosis - IBM’s Watson for Health is helping healthcare organizations apply cognitive technology to unlock vast amounts of health data and power diagnosis. Google’s DeepMind Health is working in partnership with clinicians, researchers and patients to solve real-world healthcare problems. A Stanford University study tested an AI algorithm to detect skin cancers against dermatologists, and it performed at the level of the humans.

Physician selection in clinical trials – Healthcare research company IQVIA built a decision-support system using machine learning to help sponsors manage physician selection in clinical trials – a task fundamental to trial success.

Pharmacovigilance – IQVIA is trying to apply machine learning with natural language processing to transform many pharmacovigilance functions for greater accuracy and speed. 

AI is being used in planning and resource allocation in healthcare services. For e.g., the IBM Watson Care Manager system matches individuals with a care provider that meets their needs, within their allocated care budget. It also designs individual care plans, and claims to offer insights for more effective use of care management resources.

Where lies the challenge?

Though there is enough potential for AI to transform healthcare, we need to keep in mind the ethical, legal, and political factors when designing, using and regulating the technology in healthcare. Reliability and safety are two of the biggest concerns when AI is used to control equipment, deliver treatment, or make decisions in healthcare. AI could make errors and this could have serious implications. Besides, the opaque nature of machine learning algorithms makes it difficult to validate the outputs of AI systems, and identify errors or biases in the data.

It is also important to know who is going to be liable in case of any error in diagnosis - would it be the doctor or the software developer?

To answer healthcare problems, huge sets of data are needed. Inconsistencies in the availability and quality of data, lack of standardization restrict the potential of AI. Besides, the privacy laws of different countries add complexity to the practical challenge of getting clean data.

The India scenario

AI may potentially add $957 billion to the Indian economy by 2035 and investment in AI in the Indian healthcare industry appears to be growing. The focus of most AI-based healthcare initiatives in India has been to extend medical services to traditionally underserved sections of the society. NITI Aayog is already working on several Proof-of-Concepts in healthcare using AI. Using AI, efforts are underway to make cancer screening and diagnosis far more accessible than it is currently. Noted Indian scientists from the National Brain Research Centre (NBRC), and Neuroimaging and Neurospectroscopy Laboratory (NINS) are using artificial intelligence to develop a smart system to predict Alzheimer’s disease early. In addition, there are various start-ups such as Niramai (using AI to fight breast cancer), MUrgency (bringing medical emergency services under one app), Portea (bringing doctors and medical professionals to the patient's doorstep) etc., which are redefining the healthcare sector in India.

A review of companies involved in AI and healthcare in India shows that foreign companies are developing and testing new solutions in India. Google is launching a trial that would apply its AI software to screen eyes in efforts to detect early signs of diabetic retinopathy. Another recent development is Microsoft – Apollo Hospitals’ partnership to create an AI-focused network in cardiology. 

India is a data rich country because of the volume of patients. This insurmountable volume of data is proving to be valuable in supporting research and development, identifying populations at risk, improving diagnostics, providing clinical decision support and optimizing sales and marketing.

The way ahead

AI technologies are being used for a range of purposes in the field of healthcare and research, including detection of diseases, management of chronic conditions, delivery of health services, and drug discovery. However, the real-life implementation is still facing obstacles. Clinical trials of IBM’s Watson Oncology were reportedly halted, as doctors outside the US did not have confidence in its recommendations based on American approach. Besides, there are concerns that AI solutions can be exploited to collect private and sensitive information such as Electronic Health Records, while Machine learning algorithms can also be misused to develop autonomous techniques that jeopardize the security and safety of such vital information. But despite these concerns, companies across the globe are investing heavily in AI in healthcare.

AI is very much here to stay, and is expected to bring in the next revolution in healthcare industry.