Next Big Thing

What may lie ahead of Med-Tech and AI cooperation

Aug 10, 2018

Imagine that in the future people will be able to prevent and detect potential diseases by scanning their DNA for anomalies and mutations. The best technologies are yet to come, but many smartphone users can already disclose skin cancer by taking photos and checking it through the application. This is an example of how artificial intelligence is slowly but surely entering the healthcare industry. What other miracles will arrive in the next ten or twenty years?     

Key challenges AI may deal with

A group of authors from the Journal of Neurointerventional Surgery predicts that doctors won’t be replaced by robots anytime soon. But, artificial intelligence will undoubtedly assist them to improve diagnosing or even restoring the human factor in some healthcare areas, like radiology. They added that the critical disease areas that AI studies to deal with include cardiology, neurology, and cancer. More significant attention is given to this areas may be because they frequently lead to fatalities. Early and accurate diagnosis is critical for patients who are susceptible to these diseases. AI with its processing and analytic capabilities may help to solve this issue.

As proposed by TechEmergence, new applications using AI in medical devices can be divided into 3 main types. The first category manages chronic diseases by monitoring patients state of health and automating the treatment delivery (e.g., automated insulin delivery for diabetics). The second category is specialized in medical imaging and uses AI-driven platforms to improve image readability and reduce the impact of radiation (e.g., Computed Tomography (CT) systems by GE Healthcare scans kidney and liver lesions). The third category is the above-mentioned integration of AI and the Internet of Things to monitor and treat patients (e.g., Philips Healthcare offers systems that tracking patients in serious condition).

On top of all that, the Harvard Business Review report indicates other areas where AI demonstrates its aptitude. Artificial intelligence may assist in robotic orthopedic surgery analyzing preoperative notes and helping surgeons during operations. A recent study has shown that AI-assistance gave a fivefold decrease of postoperative complications in contrast to surgeons who were working alone. Also, AI is being used to solve the cost-consuming issue of dosage errors which amount to 37% of all avertible medical errors. It is found that artificial intelligence may help to determine more precise doses of drugs for patients after organ transplants.

Besides big companies, a variety of startups using AI to transform the healthcare industry are entering the market. According to the CB Insight report with 106 startups of this sort analyzed, most of them are specialized in patient data and risk analytics and medical imaging and diagnostics. The fewest startups are dedicated to surgery, mental health, and nutrition.

What IoMT will bring to healthcare

Analytics expect that global spending on health care will rise to $8.7 trillion by 2020, not least because of the aging population (thirty years from now, the percentage of people in the age of 65 and older is going to double). In the meantime requirements to the quality and duration of live constantly rise. The challenge for most countries is to make sure that healthcare systems will be ready to cope with this demographic shift.

A lot of patients interact with various medical equipment during health supervision, diagnosing, treatment, etc. Half a million various types of stationary, implanted or wearable medical devices exist on the market and this amount will probably increase. Most of them generate a massive amount of data. It allows embodying the 4 P’s of medicine which are to:

– predict genetic risks of illness

– prevent the disease by recognizing it on early signs

– personalize treatment for each individual

– empower patients to participate in the decision-making process  

The healthcare sector is investing in the development of connected medical devices, applications, and services. Their growing number creates the infrastructure of the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT). According to a new Deloitte Centre for Health Solutions report, the segment of connected medical devices is anticipated to rise from almost $15 billion in 2017, to more than $52 billion by the 2022 year. Regarding the regional dynamics of IoMT market, it will rise threefold in North America and Europe and almost fivefold in Asia-Pacific by 2022.

Even if the IoMT is surrounded with lots of benefits, like advanced drug and disease management, improved patient experience, decreased costs and so on, there are some challenges facing the healthcare industry that wants to adopt IoMT. For example, interoperable data accessibility, cyber security (typically expensive and critical for the business’s reputation), flexibility in adapting to regulatory changes, and clear communications policies about how patients’ data will be used. Last but not least is ensuring that all connected medical device stakeholders use them at scale to shape better results. This means that will be critical for medical technology companies to prepare new strategies on how to work with the new data and stay competitive and money making on the renewed market.

To what extent are medtech businesses prepared for AI challenges? A recent survey of 237 workers of companies that develop connected medical devices has shown the noteworthy results. Respondents answered that the number of connected pieces of medical equipment in the portfolio of their companies and R&D investment on its improvement are going to rise in the next 5 years. But for all that, 70% of the interviewees didn’t think that their companies were actually ready to use the data gathered by the connected medical devices. The healthcare sector needs more data scientists and other digital specialists. Its infrastructure has to be improved before healthcare will begin to work in the digital age as it is.

Tech giants’ plans in healthcare

According to one recent Business Insider report, the healthcare industry is provoking the interest of the largest technology companies. Four giants, Alphabet (created through the restructuring of Google in 2015), Microsoft, Apple, and Amazon, are entering into the medical industry. For now they are working with different parts of the US market rather than competing with each other.

In the healthcare industry, Google relies on its artificial intelligence and machine learning expertise. Google plans to use AI for structuring health data and making sense of it more quickly and accurately. The company is actively opening more AI research centers and acquiring AI tech companies. After restructuring into Alphabet, Google’s health care projects moved from R&D laboratories to new subsidiaries. The three main Google healthcare subsidiaries are Verily (developing tools to gather and structure health data), Deepmind Health (monitoring patients` conditions and analyzing medical images) and Calico (dealing with aging and associated diseases).

Amazon continues to integrate health commodities and pharmaceutical drugs into its distribution ecosystem and is already selling medical equipment to hospitals. The company also is mobilizing its AI potential to reorganize its virtual assistant Alexa into a domiciliary health observer. CNBC reported that Alexa is being tested in hospitals to help surgeons to create control sheets and do other activities.

Apple is still unwilling to announce its health care initiatives, but during the last few years, it systematically has entered into the medical market using its strengths in popular consumer products – smartphones and wearables. Apple Watch was launched in 2014. According to Financial Times, after that, Apple used its software frameworks ResearchKit (for medical researchers) and CareKit (for customers) to connect information about health across external apps and into medical research projects. In February, Apple was preparing to open clinics for its employees called the AC Wellness Network. The start of this project was expected for spring 2018, but further information about it is not available.

Microsoft has been working on projects and initiatives related to health for years. Between 2013 and 2017 Microsoft registered more than 70 patents related to the healthcare industry focusing on AI and the monitoring of patients. Microsoft’s interest in healthcare also covers cybersecurity, cloud computing, and personalized medicine. In 2017 Microsoft started a project called Healthcare NExT that is applying the company’s cloud and AI products to the industry (e.g., help doctors to analyze medical imagery and make a diagnosis). At the same time, Microsoft made a significant shift to cloud services encouraging hospitals to work with cloud-based client profiles and AI-processed data.

To sum up:

Artificial Intelligence has already had a significant influence on industries like retail, transportation, banking, etc., and in recent years it has begun being applying in medicine. If in the past years the healthcare industry has been actively gathering information, now it is learning how to use it safely and accurately. The issue is how to cut back on considerable spending in the healthcare industry and make treatment more predictable, personalized and cost-effective. The influence of AI is still not so strongly pronounced at the everyday level, but it continues attracting the attention of big market players and researchers, and this trend seem like it will persist into the next decade.

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