Assistive AI-Technologies Will Help Healthcare Providers Put the Patient First
By Florian Bontrup
Innovation in general and specifically artificial intelligence has the potential to turn the healthcare sector upside down. It will make healthcare more individual and personal, enable service providers to help people they have not properly served so far, and improve the lives of millions who suffer every day with new treatments.
For Starters: Innovation in healthcare
Digital transformation finally arrives in the mother of all markets, the multi-trillion dollar healthcare sector. There have been medtech-innovations like surgery robots (Da Vinci), Big-Data based services like symptom checkers and AI-powered systems like IBM Watson that primarily support doctors in decision making. Besides the symptom-checker, which is one of the most desired features by hypocones, most of these innovations take into account mainly the wishes and needs of the businesses, hospitals, and doctors. While there are nearly endless possibilities to make use of modern technologies in order to improve the quality of care or deal with rising costs, most existing solutions leave out a very important variable: the patient. The focus on user-centric design is and was the key for successful innovations & services by various startups, disrupting entire industries, and improving the quality of life of billions. And this is what just happens in healthcare around the world.
AI is ready
An important element that protected the medical profession against any technical innovations, especially when it comes to interactions with the patient, is the desire of humans to talk to humans: Understanding emotions and expressing themselves. While we are still far away from an android, with recent progress in natural language processing (NLP) & computer vision, computers are finally able to listen and speak like a human. They do so with nearly zero operating costs, always on a 24/7 basis, and master languages that even translators haven't heard of.
NLP and computer vision are enabling technologies – they are like sensors for human behavior for computers and now allow for the next step: Understanding. There is already a number of services and technology platforms that claim to have mastered the process of natural language understanding, which I would like to extend to Human Interaction Understanding anyway. However, this is false. Just pick your phone and ask your Google Now assistant / Siri / Alexa a really specific question, independent from forms you have been trained on. I bet the result will be atrocious. We see a trend though; general AI-services are beginning to become platforms that allow for third-party special purpose AIs. Amazon's Alexa has the so far the largest set of additional skills that can be installed to serve in specific situations. Via Deep-Learning, the general AIs will become fairly better to detect the specific context of a question and then service it with the specialist third-party service.
Patient-centric AI services in the healthcare sector
An important element that protected the medical profession against any technical innovations, especially when it comes to interactions with the patient, is the desire of humans to talk to humans. Understanding emotions and being able to imitate them is perhaps THE key to both a widely and accepted usage of technology and robots with direct contact to patients. Focusing on the patient experience is – sadly enough – a big thing in healthcare and requires reorganizing of most processes and institutions. AI-services allow healthcare providers to do what they failed to provide due to cost pressure and lack of resources among other past reasons. Once developed and trained, the marginal costs are almost nothing. And compared to the general budget size in healthcare, even the investment in the beginning does not cause headaches. So what could these "AI-services" look like?
Personal healthcare concierges
My own early-stage startup DOCYET, for example, develops a personal health concierge that makes it easy to find a doctor and schedule an appointment, to check coverage of treatments with the insurance company, or to provide additional information about symptoms and diseases. We also help collect personal health data from different sources and connect customers to a telehealth service on demand. To put it all together, we make healthcare easy for you as a patient. There also others that do a great job in this field already: Ada, Babylon Health, and Sensely to name a few.
Expanding coverage: helping those who are easily forgotten
Besides the low hanging fruits with lots of money involved, AI services also have the chance to use their advantages for real good: using the lower marginal costs to expand coverage to more people, specifically in poor countries whom could not afford it otherwise. Or serve people that the current healthcare system does not serve well, such as migrants. DOCYET focuses on overcoming language barriers that prevent people from getting the best treatment possible – simply because there is a lack of communication. There are dozens of cases, in which patients with specific barriers often have not been handled properly.
Only enter if you have the stamina
There are reasons why healthcare is still a fairly untapped market that is only slowly changing. The complex nature of patient < > doctor relationships, the influence of hospitals or insurance companies, and the high relevance for voters and politicians all create an endless number of stakeholders. Every innovation in healthcare has to reach consensus among most of them. Healthcare is not a market you can just simply double down on, raise more funding, then competitors somehow disrupt it. If you want to make a difference, prepare for the long run.
Florian Bontrup did his masters in strategy and bizdev at Leuphana University Lüneburg and is co-founder of DOCYET, an automatized healthcare assistance provider. He specializes in fostering innovation and change among partnerships between small and large corporations.
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