Our species has always relied almost exclusively on human diagnosis and treatment in our healthcare, but recent innovations in AI may culminate in a future in which machines are at the forefront of medical care. Advancements have been rapid, and this scenario may arrive earlier than most would expect.
Both medical institutions and tech companies are racing to develop systems and devices capable of making judgment calls and administering care. This explosion of development comes about primarily because of advancements in machine-learning technology and also because of a greater volume of medical data available, including genomic sequencing data.
Medtech development firm Beta Bionics’ new bionic pancreas is a fine example of how AI can be used in a medical capacity. This device, known as the iLet, engages an algorithm which begins calculating and dosing insulin when it is first initiated. It includes a continuous glucose monitor which feeds data to the algorithm, and the algorithm continuously adjusts the dosage level depending on the needs of the patient. We may see the iLet in use sooner rather than later; Beta Bionics has received an IDE from the FDA to begin testing the device.
The FDA has already cleared two AI-based medtech systems. One is software capable of diagnosing retinopathy and prescribing treatment. The other is a contact application which evaluates images of blood vessels in the brain and alerts healthcare professionals to concerns. This second system also contacts specialists if complications may require their analysis.
A good deal of care and a great amount of repeated testing must take place in algorithm development. An algorithm incapable of correctly interpreting data and making the right decisions would be risky indeed. At the moment, algorithms are relatively simple and do not mirror human cognition and judgment. They cannot adjust a goal or path of thought. Their fundamental mission is to consider prevention and treatment options and how these options will affect patient outcome.
AI involvement in medical treatment may sound like the distant future, and it’s true that the technology is still in its infancy. Advancements have been fast and furious, however, and it seems likely that algorithms and related devices will be part of our healthcare experience very soon. If AI systems are designed to prioritize patient quality of life, both short-term and long-term, healthcare in our country may experience a boon.