As my colleagues Hannah and Robyn have been discussing from a Tech perspective, Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been a hot topic in the halls of Hill+Knowlton Strategies this year. It should come as no surprise that the Health team has a perspective here but I want to start by sharing a broad definition. For the purpose of this discussion let’s agree that AI is, “any device or software that perceives its environment and takes actions that maximize its chance of success at some goal.1

Although relatively new to the public sphere, AI is already firmly entrenched as a back-end tool for multiple healthcare organisations. And now, as it tentatively steps into the forefront of patient and physician experience, it would be more useful to discuss how, rather than if, it will change the future of healthcare.

From the very nature of its name, the healthcare sector is grounded in empathy and compassion, both innate human behaviours and the people within our healthcare systems are the reason for the medical advances we see today. However, if healthcare is to keep evolving and adapting to the challenges of aging populations, epidemics of chronic disease and global threats such as antimicrobial resistance, we need to add another tool to our kit.

Health technology is already stepping up to the plate, so why are we hesitant to accept that, through AI, strategies that move past delayed self-reporting of symptoms could enhance ultimately improve patient outcomes?

The answer lies within a balance between both human interaction and the power of AI. The testing phase that is so vital to technological innovation is restricted when someone’s wellbeing, and potentially life, is on the line. Human performance may be susceptible to external stressors, but it is essential to healthcare; advances such as AI should only be used to support healthcare professionals by enhancing the information they can collect.

It’s about collaboration, rather than competition.

In practice, look at the work being carried out in Barcelona by Better Care, who have developed a software platform to capture biomedical signals from a range of medical devices used by ICU patients. The software can alert a doctor to crucial changes, providing them with descriptive real-time analytics so that they are able to act as needed. That level of analysis, at that speed, is not a skill that humans currently possess.

The beauty behind AI is that it is accessible and scalable, and isn’t just for the reserve of private healthcare systems. In one of its simplest forms, AI is becoming commonplace as we see BOTs being integrated into our everyday interactions, popping up through Facebook and providing services in an effective, engaging way. With the increasing pressures being put on GPs and junior doctors as they work on the frontline, healthcare organisations would be remiss to ignore the collaborative opportunities AI holds for the benefit of patients. The future of healthcare is a sum of parts, and AI in all of its varied forms represents an integral part of a holistic system.

  1. The intelligent agent paradigm:

The definition used in this article, in terms of goals, actions, perception and environment, is due to Russell & Norvig (2003). Other definitions also include knowledge and learning as additional criteria.