05 February 2017

HEALTH - Artificial Intelligence is Revolutionizing Healthcare

Bots have the potential to revolutionize healthcare.

Long wait times, understaffed and underfunded clinics, lack of access to medical professionals, and poor compliance with treatments after leaving the clinic are all common in contemporary medical practices.

Some people cite doctors themselves as the source of the problem, while others see the high rates of physician burnout (over 50% as of 2014, and across specialties) as an indication that it is the system that’s failing.

Some countries, such as Malaysia, Costa Rica, Colombia, and Mexico, have found ways to prioritize and standardize healthcare, but many countries struggle.

Particularly in areas where the impact of colonialism continues to be felt, such as much of the African continent, there are too few doctors per capita to adequately address health concerns.

Lack of access to effective healthcare is not only an issue among previously-colonized populations.

Although it is Canada’s Aboriginal populations who experience the most restricted access to healthcare, many “first world” countries, including the United States, have areas of reduced or insufficient healthcare access.

Poverty is one of the most reliable indicators both of disease burden and of restricted healthcare access.

Chatbots have the potential to provide some healthcare to these underserved populations.

In India, where patients in rural areas often experience a lack of access to medical professionals, iCliniq offered the first medical bot system and has had significant success matching users with healthcare providers.

According to Entrepreneur India, “iCliniq’s user base comprises of 1110 doctors for over 80 plus specialties and 110,000 patients spanning 160 countries.”

Although the technology may have started in India, it has quickly gone global.

Not only is iCliniq now serving users across the globe, but other healthcare companies are looking at bots as a way to reduce the workload on doctors and allow them to focus on patient care, while providing quick, accessible healthcare information to patients.

China is investing in healthcare chatbots, with their recently launched Melody, an interactive AI that can help diagnose and refer patients to healthcare providers.

The UK also has multiple start-ups working on AI healthcare chatbots, including Babylon, which hopes to improve the accuracy of doctor’s diagnoses.

A recent Digital Trends in-depth look at the topic of AI chatbots in healthcare highlights current work on sophisticated chatbot technology, and also digs into some of the concerns with AI healthcare.

There are legal issues, such as liability for inaccurate diagnosis or recommendations.

There are also privacy and security issues.

But there is the potential for chatbots to free doctors up so that they can focus more easily on the parts of their job that computers can’t do – the intuition and interaction that can only be provided by another human. (With the interesting, and long-established, caveat that people seem much more willing to discuss mental health and STI status with a bot than with a doctor.)

Most predict AI will play an assistant’s role in healthcare.

Although chatbots are becoming more common in human healthcare, they’re still on the horizon for vets.

VetPronto’s VetTriage chatbot launched last year, but with limited interest from pet owners.

About Tiffany Sostar
Tiffany is a writer, editor, academic, and animal lover who came late to her appreciation of pets. At 18, a rescue pup named Tasha saved her from a depression and she hasn't looked back. She has worked as the canine behaviour program coordinator for the Calgary Humane Society, and was a dog trainer specializing in working with fearful and reactive dogs for many years. She doesn't have any pets right now, but makes up for it by giving her petsitting clients (and any dogs she comes across on her frequent coffee shop adventures) extra snuggles.

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