AI and healthcare: more personal and more accessible
Artificial intelligence, or AI, has many applications in healthcare. Discover what companies are doing in primary care and fertility medicine, in our series of interviews.
Personalizing healthcare with AI
AI is one among many technologies that have advanced in recent years. Sometimes, innovation relies on several trends converging at once. This is the case at Ava, a company that produces a wearable bracelet to track fertility cycles.
As Founder and CEO Pascal Koenig explains, product development required advances in data collection and processing, but also widespread adoption of wearable fitness devices.
Sensors on the bracelet collect information from the wearer based on physiological changes. This might sound like the traditional method of recording daily temperature to predict ovulation.
However, Koenig points out that big data is what makes the difference. With AI, you can use advanced computing power to spot patterns in very large datasets – in this instance, some 3 million data points.
As a result, patients can receive more precise, personalized predictions of their fertility window. This brings significant benefits for women: it's more accurate and convenient, and can help avoid costly, invasive fertility treatment.
AI and human doctors – collaborating, not competing
It's one thing to wear a bracelet to gather data, but what if your doctor is actually an AI algorithm? Babylon uses advances in technology and data science to do just this in the primary care space.
The company's online healthcare advice platform lets you ask an AI doctor for diagnosis by typing a question into the app.
Isn't this the same as "asking Dr. Google"? It's not, says CEO Dr. Ali Parsa, emphasizing the fundamental difference between a doctor and a search engine.
Doctors engage in a process of discovery with you, based on the likelihood of different diagnoses. Meanwhile, search engines list possible answers but can't put them into context.
AI reflects the doctor's approach – instead of being a one-off data point, it can use probability modelling to suggest what's wrong with you. This gives patients more precise information before they need to visit a doctor in person.
Artificial intelligence is particularly valuable when it comes to predictable, preventable diseases. These make up the majority of most people's healthcare costs. With earlier, more accurate diagnosis, health systems can reduce costs and improve health outcomes.
Parsa also points out that an AI doctor is unlikely to take over from humans any time soon. After all, real doctors will run tests or scans to confirm a diagnosis. AI doesn't replace that.
Parsa explains "It's about the first point of contact. You have access to a more intelligent probability analysis of what's wrong. Patients are better informed about whether visiting a doctor is even necessary."
How governance and ethics around AI in healthcare are evolving
AI brings advantages like personalized, precision medicine, reduced costs and faster consultation times. But what are the downsides of this emerging technology?
Data protection is a big cause for concern, of course, especially when it comes to the private nature of healthcare data. This is something healthcare companies are extremely conscious of.
Broader governance and ethical considerations are evolving, too, as a recent report on Healthcare Transformation by the Credit Suisse Research Institute explores.
Authors Dr. Martin Eling and Martin Lehmann of the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland say that it's crucial to remember what AI is and isn't.
As they state, 'artificial intelligence isn't intelligent per se, but trained to perform and repeat tasks. In this respect, they can be more powerful than humans.'
They also note the limitations of a machine: "There is hardly anything worse than a badly programmed AI system, which automatically makes bad decisions." Public policy and corporate governance frameworks will need to take this into account.
Building an investment case for AI in healthcare
All this means investors are certain to be keeping an eye on developments in the AI healthcare space. Credit Suisse has developed five long-term thematic trends that investors can use to evaluate opportunities brought about by significant demographic change or technological disruption.
Known as the Supertrends, one of them, 'Technology at the service of humans', identifies digital automation and AI adoption as catalysts for long-term change in healthcare.
Nannette Hechler-Fayd'herbe, Head of Global Economics & Research, Chief Investment Officer at Credit Suisse, says that investors need to consider how AI will affect daily life and create change in the long-term to be able to position their portfolios.
She points out that vast amounts of data are going to flood every area of life. The deluge of data means "we will need advanced capabilities to sort data and make better predictions. Use cases in healthcare are particularly driving this," she says.