The future of data and artificial intelligence in healthcare

We speak with three esteemed healthcare professionals from around the region to get their thoughts on the potential impact that big data and artificial intelligence will have on the industry in future.

The rapid and widespread digitalisation in healthcare in recent years is largely seen as a positive step forward for the industry, with medical providers finding it easier to achieve their objectives by utilising new technologies.

As a result of these new technologies, there are now large amounts of data that are available for clinicians and healthcare staff to access whenever needed.

When leveraged upon effectively, such data can play a key role in helping healthcare providers better understand the needs of their patients, thus enabling them to provide a higher quality of care.

In some cases, the use of data has also helped healthcare providers streamline their processes and optimise their operations.

For many healthcare staff, however, being able to successfully distil and make sense of the large amounts of available data remains an issue that has proven to be difficult to overcome.

Enter Artificial Intelligence (AI).

From early detection, to preliminary diagnosis, to training and research, the benefits of AI technology in healthcare is vast, and it is no surprise that it is already being used at many healthcare organisations around the world.

While it is still a relatively new concept in the Asian region, the potential for AI to grow is vast, and Dr Jeffrey Staples, Chief Operating Officer of Metro Pacific Hospitals in the Philippines, is certain that this technology will become a “critical” part of healthcare in future.

Dr Jeffrey Staples, Chief Operating Officer of Metro Pacific Hospitals

“Computers are very smart, they have access to limitless information, they don’t forget things, and they don’t make calculation errors. So, I think that AI has a critical place in the practice of medicine,” Dr Staples declared.

“Most routine clinical decision making can probably be well performed by AI today. For now, at least, what we need are physicians and nurses reviewing the AI recommendations to make sure it makes sense for the system and the patient, and then approving what the system recommends.

“We still need to make sure there’s some critical thinking going on with a rational being, rather than just purely a computer algorithm spitting out things to get done without being filtered.

“But at some point, those algorithms are going to get better, and there’ll be less need for that kind of critical thinking oversight.”

Dr Koh Hau-Tek, Deputy Chief Medical Officer at Jiahui Health in China, agreed that AI technology will likely disrupt the healthcare industry in a positive way, as well as change the way patients receive treatment in the future.

Dr Koh Hau-Tek, Deputy Chief Medical Officer at Jiahui Health

He elaborated: “A doctor who is treating someone with diabetes, for example, is already analysing the patient’s data all the time. But with AI coming in, it will help that doctor to make decisions faster.”

Dr Koh highlighted that the advent of wearable technology, which can provide clinicians with round-the-clock data, will further emphasise the benefits of AI.

“Wearables are now able to track a patient’s data on the go. That information can be fed to AI systems, which can then generate recommendations to the patient’s doctor in an instant,” explained Dr Koh.

“As AI is based on machine learning and pattern recognition, the doctor can look at that recommendation and have maybe a 99 percent confidence level that it is the right one. With that, it changes the way we interact with patients, and can even change the way we see medicine.

“I think AI has to come into healthcare. In the past, decisions are already made based on clinical data – what AI is doing is taking it to the next level, to think faster and better than a human brain.”

However, Dr Kaushik Banerjea, Executive Director of Medical Services at Portland District Health in Australia, is adamant that – no matter how advanced AI technology gets – it will not be able to replace the expertise of clinicians and doctors.

Dr Kaushik Banerjea, Executive Director of Medical Services at Portland District Health

“The common question is: will AI replace doctors? Absolutely not. But it will replace doctors who don’t use AI in their work,” Dr Kaushik mused.

“AI is an aid to what we do as clinicians. It helps us to understand and get our answers quicker. But clinicians and doctors have intuition that comes from years of practice and seeing variable cases.

“The problem is that each patient is unique. The human body is not a composite of perfectly made pieces. It is a composite of pieces that have gone wrong – that’s why they come to us.

“We want to go through the process of understanding and identifying which pieces have gone wrong. Some are replaceable, some are not. So, there is an inherent doctor-patient relationship which is critical in healthcare.”

Dr Koh added that for most patients, human interaction with a doctor remains an invaluable part of their experience at a hospital or clinic.

“There’s so much value to a human touch…many patients want and need that personal element in their healthcare journey,” said Dr Koh.

“But AI does not have that human touch. And especially for those who are really sick, they would much rather to see a human, than talk to a machine. This is where the synergy between the human doctor with AI systems will add value to the patient.”