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Technology is creating a digital revolution in almost every sector of the world, and healthcare is no exception. From the watches that will soon be able to detect early signs of a heart attack, to advanced imaging devices that will allow doctors to find microscopic abnormalities buried deep within the body, technology is driving healthcare forward. As impressive as the creation of hardware technology is, the software powering it may be even more remarkable because the next big breakthroughs in medicine will most likely be powered by artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Perhaps one of the greatest difficulties in medicine is finding a timely and accurate diagnosis. The challenge facing doctors is that no two human bodies operate exactly the same way, meaning any number of unknown conditions can create a wide range of variables. While technology like barcode scanners and digital imaging help to ensure that patient files contain an accurate record of all tests, results, medications, and procedures, many people still have histories that go back for decades that may or may not have been recorded accurately. A gall bladder that was removed, but not accurately recorded 40 years ago, might pose a significant obstacle to a doctor trying to make a present-day diagnosis.

In a world of managed health care, some patients bounce from doctor to doctor and specialist to specialist. Because of this, overworked doctors simply don’t have time to thoroughly review a patient’s entire life history before making a diagnosis. This is where artificial intelligence can really be put to use. As more and more records are digitized, computers can use machine learning to review a patient’s entire history, including minute details such as heart rate, temperature, and blood pressure. Machines can pick out patterns and variables that an overworked doctor might not notice. Machines can also isolate specific events and analyze data to determine cause and effect, helping doctors make more accurate diagnoses.

Another challenge that doctors face is that as scans become more and more detailed, they also offer significantly more information that needs to be processed. While a scan can now detect a tumor smaller than the head of a pin inside the human brain, detailed scans of an entire brain could take hours to review. Machines can quickly sort through hundreds of scans to look for abnormalities or variations to quickly locate even the most microscopic tumor.