The idea of artificial intelligence (AI) in medicine may make you think of robots wheeling down the halls of a hospital in the distant future, but AI is already here.
AI refers to a machine or software system that can do a human task. That could mean turning spoken words into text, looking through data to find patterns, or making decisions.
When your smartphone auto-corrects a text message or an online store sends you ads for a new product it thinks you’ll like, you can thank AI.
You’ve also used it if you’ve ever felt bad and entered your symptoms into a symptom checker app or a health care website. The AI gathers your descriptions and creates a personalized response that can help you treat your ailment at home or discuss it with your doctor. Some even let you add test results.
Here are more ways that AI will — or could — impact medicine in the near future.
More Face Time With Your Doctor
For every hour a doctor spends seeing people, they spend 2 more doing paperwork. That includes updating records, reviewing test results, handling drug refills, and checking if you’re due for shots or screenings.
AI could relieve some of that burden. For instance, a doctor could use AI to record and transcribe office visits instead of typing notes while they talk to you. AI-powered technology could then figure out where the info fits into your medical record.
With the help of special sensors and other devices, AI can gather info about what’s going on with your health and share it with your doctor. It can also read imaging test results — sometimes at least as well as a human doctor. AI can also:
- Check EKG (electrocardiogram) recordings of your heart to see if you have any issues
- Screen chest X-rays for more than a dozen diseases
- Read mammograms to look for early signs of breast cancer
- Check your moles for signs of skin cancer
- Screen for COVID-19 by the sound of your cough
- Give real-time info about homebound people to caregivers
Researchers have even made a special AI tool to fit onto your toilet if you have a chronic gut problem. Each time you flush, it can take an image of your poop and send it to your doctor. That tells them if new issues develop.
AI may make it easier for you to get more precise care. For instance, it could:
- Triage you and let a doctor know if you need care right away
- Help doctors confirm a diagnosis
- Choose the best treatment for you, based on how likely it is to help
- Suggest how many days you should stay in the hospital
- Assess the chances that you’ll get a health condition in the future
- Help you better manage conditions like diabetes and hypertension
- Keep tabs on when you take your medication
Actual robots are already being tested to help with things like checking vital signs, giving medicine, and helping to move patients.
AI can also be helpful for surgery. In some cases, it can:
- Help a surgeon choose the type of surgery you need
- Predict if you’re at risk for post-surgery complications
- Suggest what you can do before surgery to have a better result
- Help doctors practice a surgery
Doctors have been using robotic systems to do some surgeries for years. They can’t think or act by themselves, but based on recent tests, that may not be too far off.
There’s a lot about AI to be excited about, but challenges still lie ahead. AI needs a huge amount of patient data in order to advance, so privacy is a major issue. Doctors also need to understand and trust AI enough to rely on it when making decisions. But at some point, experts believe AI technology will be too helpful to ignore.