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The healthcare industry and digitalization: Dr. Digital

The healthcare industry and digitalization: Dr. Digital

Waiting rooms are overcrowded, waiting times are long, the risk of infection is high and the first open appointment with a specialist doctor is months away. Does artificial intelligence (AI) offer a new path for better health?

“Babylon, everyone’s personal health service,” announces a friendly voice at the end of an introductory video. The London start-up company Babylon is an important partner for the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK. The back story: The British healthcare system, which is wholly financed through tax payments, is on the brink of collapse. Cancer patients wait a long time for an operation date because there are no free beds in the hospitals. GPs are overwhelmed in their crowded clinics. Most of their clinics are open for twelve hours a day, seven days a week.

The smartphone becomes a mobile clinic

In contrast, Babylon is available at any time: the patient’s smartphone becomes a mobile doctor’s clinic, and a doctor’s visit becomes a chat. The robot on the other end of the line is extremely well trained, contains the experiences of billions of items of data from several thousand consultations, compares the patient’s symptoms with its own knowledge and gives a diagnosis based on that. But it can also share this with the right doctor in the NHS, who then takes over by video chat. 24 hours a day – and when needed, it can give a prescription which it sends virtually to the desired pharmacy. Available both on Google Play and in the App Store, the therapeutic Babylon App is easy to download and thereafter simple to consult. The system has even mastered simple physical examinations: the fitness tracker can check circulation and body temperature and include these in the diagnosis.

Genetic mutations identified in ten minutes

Whereas Babylon actually takes over patient care by digital means, Watson restricts itself to offering a recommendation. The IBM system nonetheless demonstrates impressive skill here, as a recent example from Japan shows. Chemotherapy was successful with a leukemia patient, according to the information portal beipress – Beisel Healthcare Press Research. But the woman recovered slowly from the effects of the post-remission therapy, that is, the treatment following the suppression of symptoms. Even the doctors were unsure what to do and fed the patient’s genetic data into a computer system. Within ten minutes the system presented the diagnosis, which was based on a comparison with all the previously saved information. It discovered a genetic mutation unique to a certain type of leukemia. It indicated that this was a case of secondary leukemia in which too few healthy blood cells are created, according to beipress. “The patient had mutations in more than 1,000 genes, but many of them weren’t connected to her illness. While it would have taken scientists around two weeks to check which of the 1,000 mutations was important for the diagnosis, ‘Dr. Watson’ solved the whole thing in ten minutes,” explains Professor Arinobu Tojo, who treated the patient. Thanks to the fast diagnosis, he was able to draw the right conclusions for the treatment.

Dr. Watson – the new doctor

But how does IBM Watson’s application work in day-to-day medical care? The doctor asks Watson questions, which are then compared against all available databases. This data includes treatment guidelines, electronic medical records, doctors’ and nurses’ notes, research results, clinical studies, articles in medical journals and patient details, among other things. Within a very short time, Watson creates a list of possible diagnoses and a value which indicates the reliability of each hypothesis. That helps the doctor – as well as the patient – to make a precise decision based on this sound information.

But it doesn’t matter whether digitalization in healthcare is advanced by a cool start-up or a large technology company: the patient becomes more transparent and the personal details are more general. Digitalization offers opportunities, but also risks, which must be defined and assessed over the long term. The digital doctor is already a reality; the conditions for its use now need to be formalized.

Author: Editorial team Future. Customer.
Image: iStockphoto/nevarpp

Tags for this article Artificial Intelligence (85) Digitization (167) Healthcare (7)


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