AI helping to improve efficiency of data analysis and reducing problems in diagnosis and treatment
It is well known that patients often can't understand doctors' handwritten notes or prescriptions. But now, with artificial intelligence technology, doctors can simply dictate information, with their voices being recognized automatically and converted into electronic medical records.
AI robots can also help doctors analyze CT scans and improve the accuracy of early-stage cancer diagnosis -using visual computation technology, big data analysis and intelligent algorithms - and even put forward a treatment program.
AI is poised to revolutionize the healthcare sector, from drafting treatment plans and helping with repetitive jobs, to medication management and drug development.
According to consulting company Frost & Sullivan, global revenue from the AI-related healthcare industry will rise to $6.7 billion (5.5 billion euros; ？？4.8 billion) by 2021, up from $811 million in 2015. Chinese technology companies are aggressively moving into the field.
Working with several Chinese hospitals and medical institutions, iFlytek Co Ltd, a leading AI company, is using its expertise in speech technology to assist doctors in improving accuracy levels of diagnosis by launching an intelligent robot.
The robot can not only provide basic medical consultation services for patients, but also record their symptoms, analyze CT scans and make a diagnosis.
"The diagnosis accuracy rate for tuberculosis by our AI-enabled robot is 94.9 percent, while the rate by human beings is just about 70 percent," says Du Lan, vice-president of the company, which is based in Hefei, Anhui province.
Wanliyun Medical Information Technology, a medical imaging company, has developed a cloud platform through cooperation with Alibaba Health, the subsidiary of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. About 90 percent of the medical data comes from the medical imaging sector.
"The platform provides remote medical image diagnosis and related services, including X-rays, CT scans and magnetic resonance imaging for patients, physicians and hospitals," says Yan Ziye, the lead researcher at Wanliyun.
AI technologies could be used in this field to improve diagnosis accuracy and help doctors improve their efficiency, he adds.
China will promote the application of AI technology in the healthcare sector to improve services for patients, especially at the grassroots level, the National Health Commission has said.
Global tech behemoths are also putting together AI programs for healthcare. IBM has announced that its Watson supercomputer will be used in evaluating cancer treatment options for physicians, reducing the decision-making process to a matter of seconds. It has been offered to cancer treatment centers in the United States.
The AI research branch of search giant Google Inc has launched its Google Deepmind Health project, which is used to mine medical records data to provide better and faster health services.
Industry insiders say that, by relying on powerful image and voice recognition and deep-learning technology, AI will greatly improve the efficiency of data analysis and reduce pressure on doctors, and will raise the accuracy of diagnosis and treatment.
"AI technology is being used in five areas: healthcare robots, research and development of drugs, intelligent diagnosis and treatment, medical imaging and health management," says Liu Jiehao, an analyst from iiMedia Research, a market consultancy, adding that he is bullish on the prospects.
"The biggest advantage of AI lies in its highly efficient calculation and precise analysis and decision-making, which could greatly improve working efficiency and unleash productivity, as well as ease the shortage of medical resources and high costs in the healthcare industry," Liu says.
He adds that there are some potential safety hazards, considering the uniqueness of individual patients and the diversity of diseases, and doctors should come up with a highly customized therapeutic plan for each patient. But AI technology could still help, even if used solely in the diagnosis and treatment of certain kinds of diseases.
"Inappropriate treatment methods could endanger the lives of patients," Liu says.
However, the biggest barrier for the development of intelligent healthcare is obtaining a large amount of medical data, which involves the privacy of patients. Thus, cooperation with hospitals to develop more trust will be crucial.