Dr. Robot Will See You Now: AI, Blockchain Technology & the Future of Healthcare
Blockchain technology and artificial intelligence, two cutting-edge technologies, have the potential to change the face of healthcare as we know it by improving the quality and reducing costs through improved efficiencies.
How Artificial Intelligence is Evolving
Most of us are at least somewhat familiar with artificial intelligence primarily through virtual assistants such as Siri and Alexa. Artificial intelligence automates repetitive learning and discovery through data after initially being set up by a human being. As many people also know, you have to be fairly specific when asking Siri and Alexa any questions — the question must be posed in the right way — to get the answer you are looking for. Artificial intelligence adapts through progressive learning algorithms. As an example, our interactions with Alexa, Siri, Google Search and Google Photos are based on deep learning.
The more we use these “assistants,” the more accurate they will become. These assistants, however, are still very much first-generation products. While they are certainly clever and helpful, most of them are unable to go beyond a single-threaded conversation. In the medical field, artificial intelligence based on object recognition, image classification and deep learning is now being used to spot cancer on MRIs — with the same accuracy as a highly-trained radiologist. This medical artificial intelligence has already gone beyond our helpful assistants.
The Basics of Blockchain Technology
A blockchain is an incorruptible digital ledger which can be programmed to record virtually everything of value. To better understand a blockchain, imagine a spreadsheet duplicated thousands of times across a computer network which regularly updates the spreadsheet — accessible to all participants in real-time.
Both Google Sheets and Google Docs allow parties with access to view a document at the same time — like a shared ledger.
Imagine a patient’s complete medical history accessible to permissioned participants across medical providers in real-time. Currently medical data is stored ‘locally’ — fragmented across various medical providers, many with different systems. Blockchain technology has the ability of making electronic medical records more efficient and cryptographically secure by having it be made universally accessible by those in the network.
Putting Blockchain and Artificial Intelligence Together for Medical Diagnoses
While we may not realize it, many of us already use examples of medical artificial intelligence. If you have a Fitbit on your wrist which monitors your blood pressure, or if your blood sugar readings or blood pressure readings go directly to an app which warns you if they are out of range, then you are using medical artificial intelligence. Many believe that in the very near future, medical “wearables” will keep track of all your vital signs, health anomalies and health markers — all of which will be sent to the cloud for analysis. In other words, before you actually even feel sick, your vital signs could indicate you will be hit by the flu within the next twenty-four hours.
USA — A study by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) national health spending is projected to grow at an average rate of 5.5 percent per year for 2017–26 and to reach $5.7 trillion by 2026
Could medical wearables or our in-home robot companions in the future know our medical issues and diagnosis faster and more efficiently than our family practitioner? Is this new technology exciting or frightening? The answer to that likely depends on your age, and whether you happen to wear a white coat. Older people who did not grow up with an iPhone attached to their hand and who still cannot conceive of a self-driving car, are unlikely to ever be comfortable with a “virtual” doctor. My own mother still refuses to bank online. Additionally, the legions of general practitioners across the nation might also find this scenario less than pleasing however with a doctor shortage in the US and other countries it may be a viable option especially to those in remote areas that have to travel a long distance to see a doctor.
The Association of American Medical Colleges predicts that by 2025 there will be a shortage of between 40,800 and 104,900 doctors. By 2030, the study estimates a shortfall of between 7,300 and 43,100 primary care physicians. Non-primary care specialties are expected to experience a shortfall of between 33,500 and 61,800 physicians.
Many believe that future developments of artificial intelligence could replace our general practitioners within the next decade due to the astronomical rise in the cost of healthcare. In the interim, artificial intelligence could become indispensable to our current doctors, allowing them to reach the right diagnosis quicker and with greater accuracy. One of the issues scientists are working on is that a medically trained deep learning system may be able to accurately diagnose a patient’s healthcare issue, but cannot yet explain how it arrived at the diagnosis. At Memorial Sloan Kettering, artificial intelligence is already being used to go through the data on cancer patients and their treatments in past decades, then suggest treatment options based on what worked in the past.
Therapeutic Robots — Advancing Companion Care
My Special Aflac DuckTM, part of the Aflac Childhood Cancer CampaignTM, is an innovative, robot companion developed by Sproutel. It features joyful play, natural movements and can interact with children giving them comfort while coping with cancer. Aflac’s goal is to distribute this smart companion to the nearly 16,000 children in the U.S. who are newly diagnosed with cancers each year, free of charge.
The combination of blockchain and artificial intelligence could personalize medicine in a truly amazing way, tailoring disease treatments and health recommendations based on a patient’s medical history, genetic lineage, stress levels, current diet, geography, atmospheric conditions and past medical conditions. Scientific advancements in medical robots including therapeutic robots that act and appear more human or like animals/pets, combined with an increasing demand by hospitals to deliver higher quality care without ballooning costs may result in faster market adoption on a massive scale.
It is important to remember that medicine is more than math and science but with spiraling healthcare costs having no end in sight, my mother and many others may be forced to have an in-home robot companion in order to receive healthcare. On the plus side, a medical/therapeutic in-home robot companion won’t need to be walked and fed. Actually, it will probably notify you when you need to be walked and fed.