In October last year, a hospital in Ohio, US successfully performed a robotic single-port kidney transplant by creating a small incision. The "robotic touch" was such that it minimised the area in which the operation was performed, the patient was discharged in lesser time than usual, with less scars and naturally reduced levels of post-operative pain. She also needed no opioids as a result. This is just one example of how artificial intelligence is transforming lives in the field of healthcare.
We now have mobile applications and devices that are making preliminary diagnosis of life-threatening diseases easier, cheaper and far more convenient. Miiskin, UMSkinCheck, for instance, help in early detection of skin cancer based on the picture taken of a mole or lesion through its interface. Then there is Google's AI-enabled retinal scan that can be used to predict a person's risk of suffering a major cardiac event. In a recent instance, a doctor from Connecticut, US, ended up detecting a metastatic cancer in his throat while testing a new ultrasound gadget for his iPhone.
If you think, this is the peak of technological advancements in healthcare, be prepared to be delightfully surprised. In the years to follow, we will be seeing robots not just aping hand movements of surgeons while performing procedures, but being the guiding light of surgeons. Google's parent Alphabet and Johnson & Johnson have been developing a "smart robot" since 2015 which is reportedly set to be launched this year. These smart robots are going to be the guiding light of surgeons in operation theatres, assisting them in every step of the surgery. A whole lot of data points from surgeries performed across the globe will be fed into its system so the robot can guide and prevent surgeons from erring. "Before a particular procedure, a surgeon wants to know how to go about a surgery the right way. Since the robots will have so much data gathered from actual surgeries fed into its system, it would be able to guide the doctor towards diagnosis, interpretation well. The surgeon would still be the driver, but with a vast quantum of guidance available," says Randeep Wadhawan, director of department of minimal access, bariatric and gastrointestinal surgery at Fortis Hospital, Delhi.
Going ahead, mobile applications will also be having real-time conversations with users. Microsoft says that based on historical data, the mobile application that's in the works will initiate conversations with people battling depression or anxiety. On the basis of the inputs received, it would then suggest a person to either talk to friends and family, if the situation is not too grave, or advise to reach out to a counselor. Preliminary diagnosis with respect to mental health is sorted in that sense. "Because there is so much stigma around mental health, people are generally reluctant to seek help. Once developed, this application would perform the role of a counselor and help with giving some idea to the person about the position they are in," says Sriram Rajamani, managing director at Microsoft Research India.
Diseases like glaucoma, ovarian cancer will be easily detected using novel devices and smartphones, as IBM Research is working on developing a non-invasive technique through which AI can be deployed to detect patterns characteristic of glaucoma in retina imaging data, and the UK's National Health Service (NHS) is working with companies for develop AI programmes for early detection of ovarian cancer. Since perfection and innovation are key to any breakthrough advancement, a lot is in the works to perfect the algorithms that are being used to detect diseases. "We are curating and perfecting an advanced ML algorithm that can help in early detection of cardio-vascular diseases, with an accuracy of 89% to 92%. Another algorithm that is in the works is for timely detection of brain bleeds," says Arvind Sivaramakrishnan, chief information officer, Apollo Hospitals.
In the future, AI and ML tools are likely to work wonders in the fields of drug discovery, clinical trials, diagnostics. Since AI can sift through patterns faster than any human, diagnostics is one are where maximum potential can be unleashed. Genetics and nanotechnology will also be utilised in developing in personalised targeted medicine. "Medicines that will understand a person's genetic nature and remove the problems that we face with chemotherapy these days wherein the the good cells are also killed along with the bad ones will soon come into being," says Atul Jalan, author of Where Will Man Take Us?: The bold story of the man technology is creating.