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May 3, 2017

AI and robotics in healthcare will be accepted by public

Artificial intelligence and robotic technologies have long been seen as promising areas for healthcare. The explosion of healthcare data combined with the rise in demand from ageing populations around the world, rising costs, and a shortage of supply – both in the number of healthcare professionals needed to treat and care for an increasing number of sick people and the availability and access to a broader range of necessary services than ever before – has left a monumental gap that only technology can fill, consultancy firm PwC writes in the report ‘What doctor? Why AI and robotics will define New Health’.

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Modern health systems can treat and cure more diseases than ever before. New technology is bringing innovation to old treatments. Yet significant quality, access and cost issues remain and our health systems are becoming increasingly unsustainable.  The emergence and increasing use of artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics will have a significant impact on healthcare systems around the world.

The PWC report looks at the benefits of AI and robots for healthcare professionals and stakeholders like patients and governments. One of AI’s biggest potential benefits is to help people stay healthy so they don’t need a doctor, or at least not as often. The use of AI and the Internet of Medical  Things (IoMT) in consumer health applications is already helping people to manage their own healthcare and to keep themselves well through healthier living.

Another big benefit is that AI and robotics can perform tasks like sifting through enormous piles of data/scans et cetera much faster, supporting better and earlier diagnostics, or combine data to provide scientists with new insights. AI is already being used to detect diseases, such as cancer, more accurately and in their early stages. Robots can help with or perform tasks like delicate surgery,lift people from their beds or act as social companions.

Just the beginning

Over the past few years the rapid progress of technology has started to fulfil the promise of AI and it’s just the beginning. As these technologies develop, faster and better diagnoses, and more effective treatments, will save more lives and cure more diseases, and we will have more opportunities enabled by this technology  to live healthier lives.

So, whether we like it or not, AI and robotics are the future of healthcare. Access to quality, affordable healthcare, and good health for everyone is the ultimate goal. The economic and social advantages to be gained from integrating AI and robotics seamlessly into our existing healthcare systems, and then create new models of healthcare based on these technologies, are enormous.

Human element

Yet healthcare remains personal, and the human element must remain at it’s core. This will mean redefining the various roles of healthcare professionals, and ensuring that the necessary new skills are understood and taught in or medical schools.

The public is ready to embrace this new world of healthcare, a survey among people in 12 countries shows. A significant percentage of respondents were highly willing to choose certain treatments, tests or services administered by an AI or robot and there was widespread agreement about these services across the countries surveyed. But a few things need to happen, PwC states, before willingnes is translated into reality:

1.    For governments:
 create quality standards and a regulatory framework which are applicable to and obligatory for the entire healthcare sector, as well as the appropriate incentives for adopting new approaches. Linking regulations to facilities or humans, will naturally inhibit adoption. Also, AI and robotics should be seen as making healthcare more accessible and affordable. There is a risk that these technologies may become the provenance of the well off.

2.    For healthcare professionals:

 understand how AI and robotics have the potential to work for and with them in a medical setting as well as throughout the healthcare eco-system, and be open to change. If clinicians will not be as good at monitoring, diagnosis, decision making or surgery, then what is the unique role for the human, and how can they prepare for it?

3.    For patients and the general public:
become more accustomed to artificial intelligence and robots and discover its benefits for themselves. Although, we suspect just as they have already adopted AI in their everyday lives, health technologies will similarly be taken up with alacrity.

4.    For the private sector developing AI and robotics solutions:

 and those solutions need to solve the big issues of demand and resource that every health system faces. In essence, by providing AI and robotic driven solutions, the private sector has the
opportunity to disrupt healthcare for the good.

5.    For decision-makers at healthcare institutions:

develop an evidence base, measure the success and the effectiveness of the new technology; phased
implementation, prioritise and focus on what  consumers want and need.

Innovation from AI and robotics lies at the core of our ability to redefine how we deliver healthcare to our citizens. Digitally enabled care is no longer a nice-to-have, but a fundamental imperative for governments and business to reinvent how healthcare is accessed and delivered. This is creating unprecedented opportunities to transform what has been provision of healthcare that is traditionally focused on the clinician, the hospital, their legacy infrastructure, and incentives to maintain the status quo. AI and robotics are the next wave in this transformation.

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