The use of AI in telemedicine and telehealth can assist doctors in providing better services to patients by simplifying their work practices.
Telemedicine is the exchange of medical information from one location to another using electronic communication. Telemedicine has proliferated in the past few years and has become an integral part of health care, penetrating public hospitals, private clinics, and even people’s residences and workplaces. According to Gartner, Health delivery organizations (HDOs) are “on the threshold of a seismic change in how they will deliver clinical care and they now recognize the value of virtual care and telemedicine.” The use of AI in telemedicine will play a massive role in bringing about this seismic change in healthcare. So what exactly will this ‘seismic change’ be?
AI and telemedicine can work as the perfect partners in providing better healthcare services. Telemedicine already incorporates the use of technology in the form of wireless tools, smartphones, and other telecommunications devices. Integrating AI in these tools will be relatively easy, and this will further enhance the usability of these devices. Some of the benefits of AI in telemedicine are:
Remote diagnosis is has been made possible due to telemedicine. Doctors can already monitor, diagnose, and treat diseases remotely with the help of telemedicine. It has helped in reducing patient visits, as in the case of diabetic retinopathy patients. The Los Angeles County Department of Health Services has reported that patient visits have been reduced by about 14,000 by integrating telemedicine screening for diabetic retinopathy. And with the addition of AI in screening procedures, the number of visits can be expected to reduce even further. With an AI system embedded in the screening process, all that the algorithm will need are retinal images. The AI algorithm can analyze the photos and compare them with previous samples to accurately determine the severity of the condition. A considerable amount of time and labor will be saved by the use of AI in the screening process, both for the doctors as well as the patients.
Similarly, another startup is aiming to train an AI algorithm to detect the occurrence of rare genetic diseases by analyzing photos of patients. Currently, patients with rare genetic disorders, on average, require seven visits to the doctor’s clinic before a correct diagnosis of the disease can be done. However, with AI and telemedicine, the number of visits can be reduced to zero. All the patient needs to do is send an image of their face to the doctor, and the AI algorithm can analyze them and correctly diagnose the disorder.
With the ease of diagnosis made possible by utilizing AI in telemedicine, doctors and patients can expect diagnosis to become a time and cost-effective process as compared to the existing procedures.
The next step after diagnosis is providing the best treatment to the patient. AI can help suggest the best treatment option available to the patient. AI algorithms can analyze the past medical records of the intended patient and provide treatment solutions in accordance with them. This significantly reduces the time spent by doctors in going through the medical history of the patient to prescribe treatment options best suited for the situation at hand. AI can provide better treatment recommendations while requiring less human effort. IBM Watson Health is already being used to recommend treatment plans for cancer patients at a hospital in Jupiter, Florida. With AI, Watson can study the medical history of the patients and suggest treatment options. It can also analyze the current treatment procedures carried out to determine the treatment that is giving the best results.
Doctors usually get stressed during long working days. It can lead to frustration and burnouts and can even affect work practices. Mostly, prolonged interactions with patients or spending a substantial amount of time on electronic devices can cause burnouts. Dr. Rasu Shreshtha, M.D., chief innovation officer at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Centre,said, “In some instances, 40% or more of a clinician’s time is spent entering notes into an electronic medical record. Doctors are interacting with the EMR as opposed to the patients”. Telemedicine is already helping medical professionals cope with burnouts. And when one combines AI with telemedicine, the benefits are multiplied. AI can help reduce the physician’s digital screen time. AI can also help identify signals that can indicate symptoms of burnouts. It can even predict how many patients a doctor can see before burning out.
Telemedicine is usually associated with mobile devices. However, at some point, telehealth will also include assistive robots. These robots will play a huge role in providing healthcare at the residence, especially for elderly citizens. Smart robots can perform tasks such as assisting people to walk and move around the house, providing timely medications and alerting authorities in case of emergencies. The robots can move semi-autonomously and carry out the designated tasks. With AI capabilities, the robots can understand the environment, the behavioral and movement patterns of the patient, and the home interior settings. It can thus train itself to provide better support for the patient and work as their caretaker. The Japanese government is already funding the research for the development of AI robots for elderly assistance. These robots can assist people in walking, bathing, disposing of their waste, and continuously monitor their health. These robots have the potential to decrease the cost of delivering healthcare services while working with the same efficiency as humans. They can even help improve the quality of life of the patients as they are available to the elderly round the clock for assistance.
Although telemedicine promises to reduce hospital visits, sometimes a hospital visit does become necessary. In such cases, AI can help reduce waiting times for patients, ensuring that the patients are quickly attended. GE Healthcare and the Johns Hopkins Hospital are leveraging AI and predictive analytics to overcome the hurdles a patient faces at the hospital before he can get access to the doctor. The AI tool updates the staff members round the clock about the influx of patients visiting the hospital, high-priority cases, the need for additional beds, and other information regarding patient care. The program has resulted in a 60% improvement in the hospital’s ability to receive patients with complex medical conditions. The ambulance services, too, have increased efficiency with the ambulances being dispatched an hour sooner. And the patients in the emergency room, also, are allocated a bed 30 percent faster than before, thanks to AI and predictive analytics.
The demand for smart healthcare, which includes the use of telehealth and telemedicine, is growing. According to a survey, about 76% of US hospitals and health system executives plan on implementing telemedicine and telehealthcare. As the field of telemedicine and telehealth evolves with increasing adoption, the role of AI in telemedicine, too, will grow substantially. Medical professionals can benefit hugely from adopting AI in telemedicine. It will help in cutting costs, providing better healthcare to individuals, and improving the work environment by reducing the waiting time for patients, suggesting the best treatment options and most importantly, will make healthcare available 24/7.
Naveen is the Founder and CEO of Allerin, a software solutions provider that delivers innovative and agile solutions that enable to automate, inspire and impress. He is a seasoned professional with more than 20 years of experience, with extensive experience in customizing open source products for cost optimizations of large scale IT deployment. He is currently working on Internet of Things solutions with Big Data Analytics. Naveen completed his programming qualifications in various Indian institutes.