The use of artificial intelligence (AI) in healthcare is advancing rapidly. New developments in computing technology, combined with cloud access to immense amounts of data, have spurred great strides in using AI to improve diagnosis, clinical outcomes and overall efficiency. And the future promises even more.
Unified communications (UC) makes this possible by creating easy access to the cloud, enabling medical professionals, patients and researchers to collaborate and communicate.
The Evolution of Artificial Intelligence
Machine-learning and artificial intelligence are often used interchangeably. In fact, there are some significant differences. Machine-learning is rules-based, meaning the software is directed to follow specified rules in making decisions. In healthcare, machine-learning has been used to enhance medical images, monitor patients in intensive care units, accelerate gene sequencing and automate procurement, scheduling and drug ordering. While useful for routine tasks, machine-learning has its limitations.
AI, on the other hand, uses sophisticated algorithms to analyze data and come to unique decisions. In the field of artificial intelligence, this is referred to as “deep learning.” These algorithms can sift through immense amounts of data and see patterns that humans might miss. Pulling in historical data and current information creates a powerful predictive analysis tool when paired with the right unified communications technology, supporting healthcare professionals in their daily decision-making.
How AI improves healthcare
Artificial intelligence is impacting healthcare in three major ways:
Enhancing diagnosis. One of AI’s biggest uses is in image-intensive fields like radiology, dermatology, pathology, ophthalmology and image-guided surgery. Dr. C. David Naylor, writing in the Journal of the American Medical Association, notes that “in many cases, interpretation of images by deep learning systems has outperformed that by individual clinicians when measured against a consensus of expert readers or gold standards such as pathologic findings.” Does this mean AI will replace physicians? No. However, it shows great potential to enhance diagnosis and personalize treatment, saving time and improving clinical outcomes.
Empowering patients. With the increased usage of wearables and health apps, healthcare consumers have access to a growing amount of data. They can connect to their electronic records, upload personal health information – like vital signs, sleep patterns and sugar counts – and access the world of medical knowledge available via the Internet. AI blends all this information to provide personalized medicine. For example, there are apps that assess a patient’s condition over time and aggregate that data with other patients’ information in real time. Many interactive apps coach patients, sending reminders and adapting to the individual’s habits, thereby delivering more effective treatment.
Improving operational efficiency. AI is also being used to control costs and improve clinical outcomes. For instance, it can personalize patient discharge plans, taking socioeconomic information, as well as medical data, into consideration. Patients who have a higher risk of readmission are flagged and followed more closely after discharge. Hospitals also use AI-driven programs for financial collections, patient scheduling and asset management.
How unified communications powers healthcare AI
None of this would be possible without the cloud’s massive storage capabilities and easy access to its data via unified communications. It’s sometimes hard to believe that what we take for normal today – these sophisticated AI programs and ultra-fast hardware – have only come about in the past decade.
UC has enabled more effective collaboration between healthcare professionals, patients and academic researchers, all contributing essential data that AI can interpret for practical use. Because the technology resides in the cloud, users can access the most updated programs without the constant cost of upgrading equipment. With UC, healthcare professionals can easily share data-intensive files like video, images and audio.
Via unified communications, patients now have the ability to access their own health information and the larger dataset available on the Internet. They can use whichever device they choose, including wearable health technology, smartphones, tablets or desktop computers. Many may not even realize that AI is powering the programs they use on a daily basis to manage their health.
Uses of artificial intelligence in medical diagnostics, treatment and research will continue to increase rapidly. In, fact, in a survey of 50 healthcare company executives, over 50 percent said they believe AI will be ubiquitous in the field by 2025. When combined with unified communications, AI is set to raise forward-thinking healthcare firms head and shoulders above their competition.