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Rise of artificial intelligence in the healthcare sector

The complexity and influx of data in healthcare means that Artificial Intelligence (AI) will increasingly be applied within the health sector. Several types of AI are already being employed by providers of care and life sciences companies. The key categories of applications involve diagnosis and treatment recommendations, patient engagement and adherence, and administrative activities. Although there are many situations during which AI can perform healthcare tasks better than humans, implementation factors will prevent large-scale automation of healthcare professional jobs for a considerable period due to ethical issues. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and related technologies are increasingly prevalent in business and society, which are now being applied to healthcare as well. These technologies have the potential to transform many aspects of patient care, as well as administrative processes within provider and pharmaceutical companies.

Artificial Intelligence is not a single technology but rather a set of them. Most of these technologies have immediate relevance to the healthcare field, but the precise processes and tasks they support vary widely. Surgical robots, initially approved within the USA in 2000, provide ‘superpowers’ to surgeons, improving their ability to see, create precise and minimally invasive incisions, stitch wounds and so forth. Important decisions are still made by human surgeons, however. Common surgical procedures using robotic surgery include gynecologic surgery, prostate surgery and head and neck surgery. JPMC’s Cyberknife Unit would be the best example in this regard.

AI and machine learning have been quietly revolutionizing the health sector for years by delivering everything from robotic surgery and 3D image analysis to intelligence biosensors that allow diagnoses and treatments to be managed remotely. But while the COVID-19 pandemic has been devastating, it has also catalyzed technological developments in and awareness of healthcare AI. Recent developments in AI show that ‘telehealth’ can be a helpful platform for consultation. Efforts are being focused on voice-based COVID-19 screening apps and also on using data to detect neurological conditions like Parkinson’s disease. The potential for this is significant and it promises to elevate telehealth to whole new level.

Almost all consumers now have access to devices with sensors which collect valuable data about their health. From smartphones with step trackers to wearables which track a heartbeat round the clock, a growing proportion of health-related data is generated on the go. Collecting and analyzing this data – and supplementing it with patient-provided information through apps and other home monitoring devices – can offer a new perspective into individual and population health. Technology applications and apps encourage healthier behavior in individuals and help with the proactive management of a healthy lifestyle. It puts consumers in control of health and well-being. Additionally, AI enables healthcare professionals to better understand the day-to-day patterns and needs of the people they care for and subsequently they can provide better feedback, guidance and support for staying healthy.

Artificial intelligence undoubtedly possesses a disruptive potential to change not only the health sector but also the entire world. This technology is growing day by day. The penetration of Artificial Intelligence has undoubtedly transformed the pharmaceutical industry. However, there is still a long uphill road before a full-scale adoption of innovative technology, especially in Pakistan. This highlights not only an enormous gap but also a wholesome market opportunity waiting to be explored.

The writer is a Karachi based freelance columnist and is a banker by profession. He could be reached on Twitter @ReluctantAhsan

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