In these last few months I wrote a number of posts on the growing role Artificial Intelligence is playing in Healthcare and even more important the ones that it will be playing in the coming decades. There is basically no segment in the Healthcare area where AI is not expected to play a role, from genome sequencing to drugs creation, from diagnoses to surgery, from patient care in hospitals to home care.
Yet the question if AI is going to replace researchers, nurses, doctors remain quite open. It is a bit like saying that the screwdriver has become an essential tool in all domains where “hard” interaction with devices and machines is needed (and of course depending on the specific domain different types of screwdrivers are needed!) but obviously the screwdriver did not replace the hand that is operating it, nor the “mind” pointing the hand to the right screw.
A recent article on Spectrum discuss the promises and the actual results of IBM Watson applied to the Healthcare area. After winning Jeopardy, back in 2011, IBM started to reposition Watson to solve big issues and one of the biggest, and most promising ones was Healthcare (watch the clip). Worldwide Healthcare in 2019 is a 7 Trilion $ market (with US market representing some 30% of it! an indication of the relevance in developed Countries, the Italian Healthcare market represent a 1.7% of the worldwide market, although Italy has got just 0.7% of the world population) and that means there is plenty of business opportunities. At the same time, the growing cost and the skyrocketing increase in potential knowledge, potential because it has become impossible for a single doctor to adsorb and apply that knowledge in her practice, creates a gap that needs to be filled and technology, AI in particular, may provide an answer.
As described in the Spectrum article, AI is being applied in many segments of Healthcare but as a flanking technology, not as a substitute. In most cases AI is actually increasing cost (because it cost money in terms of much more sophisticated equipment that also requires skilled people to operate them, hence increasing training cost).
True, hospitalisation time has decreased significantly as surgery has become less traumatic and better control procedures are available. At the same time technology is making possible to “heal” many more pathologies, hence more and more surgeries are being scheduled. If you look at major hospitals you see that the time surgery rooms are operational has not decreased at all! More surgeries are being performed than in the past.
Technology keeps evolving rapidly but it is not substituting surgeons, although their role and the way they work keeps changing. Any new technological advance, particularly those brought by Artificial Intelligence is just showing that much more can, and need to, be dome.
Indeed it looks like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. We see it, but as we move towards it the gold shift a bit further away.