AI in Telemedicine: Incorporating artificial intelligence into the healthcare continuum has been steadily increasing, though it is not a new phenomenon. The idea of AI was conceptualized in as early as the 1920s, resulting in the introduction of the chatbot in 1964. The chatbot, Eliza, generated a lot of interest and controversy when it recreated a conversation between a psychotherapist and a patient.
Adaption of AI can improve current results in the telehealth sector. In fact, smart healthcare systems are already proving super-efficient in diagnosing health symptoms and tackling operational inefficiencies.
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The Transformative Effects of AI in Telemedicine and Telehealth
Telehealth and medicine solutions are revolutionizing the delivery of care. As technology continues to advance and interconnectivity expands, there will be increased possibilities in this space. By incorporation of information sharing, data analytics, the internet of things, wearables, cloud computing, and robotics, a wealth of health data will be generated. Artificial intelligence (AI) provides solutions to the limitations and challenges healthcare professionals are experiencing when it comes to maximizing the value of this data and beyond. As processes become more advanced there will be a higher need for and increased efficiency to meet these demands.
From providing better diagnoses to assisting the elderly and improving management, AI-integrated telehealth and telemedicine solutions have revolutionized healthcare practices and facilities. Below are just a few examples of its powerful impact on the healthcare sector.
Improves (Tele-)Diagnostic Processes
With the integration of AI in telemedicine solutions, tele-diagnosis is creating new avenues in the diagnostic process. Tele-diagnosis is detecting diseases and diagnosing patients from remote locations, recreating in office visits by utilizing digital diagnostic instruments. Introducing powerful processors programmed with the ability to ingest large data sets from various sources is impacting health outcomes as it creates a comprehensive view of patient medical histories. AI extracts information and provides doctors with actionable insights, to then give more accurate recommendations. These machines can also detect abnormalities, identifying the onset of a disease or symptoms of an illness.
Because ultrasounds, CT scans, and MRIs are inputting into a centralized system, it is easily accessible to healthcare professionals. As the report arrives, it is automatically scanned and analyzed by AI-powered software, which then recommends appropriate diagnoses to doctors based on the patient’s medical history.
For instance, telediagnosis has proved extremely effective in oncology. Modern artificial intelligence software uses sophisticated algorithms to determine the formation of cancer symptoms. The software does this by extracting relevant data from thousands of similar cases and then creating models of disease progression to predict an outcome. The result is a less time-consuming, investigative approach. Leveraging AI in telemedicine uses evidence-based, historical data to help doctors find solutions at a much quicker pace.
Facilitates Remote Patient Monitoring
Remote patient monitoring continues care without the need of an in office visit. This type of access is faster and more efficient for both patients and providers. Remote monitoring has evolved to operate in the same way as traditional visits with the use of video conferencing and medical wearable devices. These devices record, store, and transmit patient data to healthcare teams. A real-time feed is analyzed by software, which uses AI and machine-learning techniques to track abnormal patterns and behaviors, helping them predict issues before they arise. These inherent capabilities can prevent relapses, readmissions, and even death.
Advance, robotic assisted, telemedicine solutions such as CardioVest, can monitor a patient’s vital signs for a month and notify doctors of any anomalies in health conditions. On receiving such notifications, the AI system of a healthcare facility can take control by calling the ambulance and providing critical data analysis to help doctors find a quick solution in an emergency.
Sound analysis for ECG monitoring is another example of remote patient monitoring. The sophisticated software attached to the stethoscope-like device detects heart health by picking up distinct vibrations in the blood flow. The resulting data from the sound analysis is probed using a deep neural network model. Any anomalies in blood circulation are passed to the physician in real-time, who can take immediate action.
Transforms Elderly Care
According to the UN, the number of older adults across the globe is increasing at a rate faster than any other age group. This increase in numbers will undoubtedly affect the senior living industry. Current processes and systems will have to be improved upon to meet the impending demand. AI-powered systems and machines learn by collecting data over a period of time and leverages it to perform tasks usually carried out by humans.
Smart technology benefits elderly patients, their healthcare team and facility staff, and their families. It makes monitoring, data collection, and repetitive administrative tasks easier and more efficient. Also, integrating artificial intelligence with health devices grants visibility into a patient’s health, extracting insights from historical data makes more accurate diagnoses.
AI facilitates the incorporation of new and advanced technologies such as robots, sensors, and intelligent software. A Reuters article outlines how Japan is utilizing robots to assist in elderly care as this particular segment of the population increases. As the workforce shrinks in size, robotics are incorporated to fill in the gaps.
Similarly, virtual robots are also helping elderly patients by offering companionship and answering health-related questions. AI-powered systems are also sharing information with family member keeping them informed and engaged in the care of their loved ones.
Enhances Preventative Care
AI is proving to be particularly useful in managing cases related to chronic illnesses. Devices are able to detect symptoms before it is too late to reverse the damage done by the disease. Early diagnosis and detection saves lives and reduces medical expenses and costs.
When it comes to preventive care, a team from MIT has developed an efficient software that can quickly identify skin cancer-causing tumors. Until now, medical providers have mostly relied on visual inspection to detect suspicious pigmented lesions. However, the introduction of an AI-based system developed by MIT ensures that such anomalies are detected before there are detectable symptoms.
Such examples of smart healthcare systems are known to prove very helpful in the early prognosis of a chronic illness. Since these systems are capable of detecting specific variables across millions of data points, doctors can use them to collect, compile, and analyze hundreds of patterns of disease.
Chatbots and Virtual Assistants
For many, the simplest and most effective means of telehealth solutions are chatbots and virtual assistants. They’ve proved immensely helpful where the context of the situation and the user is simple. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, “a natural progression from human-to-human interaction in telehealth is the development of computer-based generation and understanding of conversation to enable computer-to-human interaction.” Online therapies, interventions, counseling services, etc. have widely used virtual assistants and chatbots to replace tasks traditionally carried out by humans such as,
- Reminders (to take medication, exercise, health/nutrition information)
- Facilitates routine checkups based on health data collected from wearable devices, etc.
- Address questions and concerns as it relates to treatment plans and overall health
- Mediates between patient and providers.
As the utilization of AI increases, chatbots and virtual assistants will likely become more integral in the continuum of care. This is already evident in technologies like SIRI and Google search engine, that has become smarter with each passing year. The ability of these VAs to understand multiple languages is already proving critical to bridging the communication gap.
Telehealth is providing care remotely with the help of telecommunications, virtual interconnectivity, and advanced technology. As technology continues to advance and the demand for care intensifies, the shift to smarter and more efficient modes of care will be inevitable. Leveraging AI-powered solutions in telemedicine and all forms of telehealth will have a major impact on this shift. Incorporating smart technology can lighten the burden on the healthcare industry as a whole, by meeting patients where they are, providing job opportunities, improving patient engagement, reducing costs, increasing efficiencies, and so much more. Incorporating AI technology would make healthcare delivery available 24/7.