AI could help us live longer and healthier lives — and it all comes down to data

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(Image credit: Adobe Firefly 3/Future generated AI image)

AI is about to trigger a seismic shift in the way we tackle healthcare, and it’s not a moment too soon. Our ageing populations, along with cash starved hospitals and overworked staff, have seen a steady deterioration in the scope and quality of medical care provided on a day to day basis. 

Too many people have experienced delays, mistakes and cancellations while trying to receive proper treatment, but suddenly a white knight has appeared on the horizon.

Artificial intelligence has emerged as a powerful and effective way to deal with many of the problems plaguing the medical profession. 

As author Eric Topol explains in his book Deep Medicine: How Artificial Intelligence Can Make Healthcare Human Again, "the greatest opportunity offered by AI is not reducing errors or workloads, or even curing cancer: it is the opportunity to restore the precious and time-honored connection and trust."

Wearables driving the data explosion

The tech industry has not been slow to take advantage of the demand for these new tools, and some surprising new players have entered the ring. US giant Apple is reportedly developing a new AI powered health coach and mood tracker codenamed Quartz.

One key aspect of this is predictive analysis, where cameras and sensors are integrated with intelligent software to pick up early signs of possible patient issues before they can become life threatening.

The product, which gives users custom workout routines based on Apple Watch data, is similar to the latest offering from Google and Fitbit, which uses the Gemini model to offer personalized health tips and programs.

But these chat applications are only the tip of the medical iceberg. A growing category of equipment known as Internet of Medical Things devices (IoMT) will increasingly feature advanced AI to provide sophisticated remote and local monitoring to bolster patient care. One key aspect of this is predictive analysis, where cameras and sensors are integrated with intelligent software to pick up early signs of possible patient issues before they can become life threatening.

A team at Swansea University also recently demonstrated a system which could deliver test results for issues such as cardiovascular disorders, joint problems and Alzheimer’s in two minutes using little more than a fingertip sample. The research, which is still in early stages, shows the promise of how AI and machine learning can dramatically speed up the delivery of vital diagnoses to hospitals and doctors.

In a similar vein, researchers are closing in on the potential use of smart contact lenses to monitor blood glucose levels as a means of tracking and treating diabetes. The initiative was originally started by Google and Novartis a decade ago, but a research paper released last month from Yonsei University in the Republic of Korea, has demonstrated real progress in animal and human trials of the technology.

Growing value of patient data

Oura Ring Gen 3 smart ring.

(Image credit: Future)

At the heart of this brave new world is data. Specifically our ‘electronic health records’ patient data. It’s hardly a surprise then, that last year’s controversial $411 million, five year contract to handle the UK’s national health service patient records should be won by Palantir, a well known US spy tech company. Data, and especially patient data, is going to become a very valuable commodity as we tiptoe cautiously into this new AI age.

One powerful demonstration of just how important machine learning is likely to be our future health and well-being comes from the news this week that Med-Gemini, a collaborative set of medical AI models from Google and Microsoft, achieved a 91.1% accuracy in running scans on complex patient health data.

This included ‘needle in a haystack’ searches to find subtle and rare medical conditions or symptoms, which might otherwise have been missed by human eyes. The system also performed well on medical evaluations using a chat bot, asking appropriate questions and making correct diagnoses. The research team was cautiously optimistic about the results, especially regarding "its potential to significantly reduce cognitive load and augment clinicians’ capabilities."

The future of health is AI

Google Gemini logo with person holding phone

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

It’s still early days in the drive to embed AI into our global healthcare systems. However the signs are that we’re at the cusp of something significant in terms of AI assisted prognoses, preventative medicine and treatments. 

Most observers stress, however, that the real need is to give medical professionals the tools to improve outcomes, not just overturn the whole system.

As Mihaela van der Schaar, director of the Centre for AI in Medicine at Cambridge University, explains, “We need to make sure that we design and build AI to help healthcare professionals be better at what they do...not to replace them,”

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