Can Artificial Intelligence Revolutionise Healthcare?

As the world discusses how language model chatbot ChatGPT is changing the way information is created, the new episode of the “Global Health Matters” podcast addresses the question of how artificial intelligence and other technological tools can improve healthcare.

“Investigators have already been testing the applicability of artificial intelligence to healthcare,” says host Garry Aslanyan. “A recent study in PLoS Digital Health has shown these kinds of AI algorithms to have huge potential in the early diagnostics of dementia.”

Highlighting the potential of new technologies but also their limits, during the episode Aslanyan entertains a conversation with Florence, a freely accessible AI health worker developed by the World Health Organization in partnership with the Ministry of Health of Qatar.

“Florence was engaging, but I must admit I didn’t get the responses that I needed to hear,” remarks Aslanyan.

According to Yara Aboelwaffa, an independent Digital Health Consultant and co-founder of Health 2.0 Egypt, eventually Florence will become a game-changer.

“The future versions of Florence, or generally AI powered chatbots, have many possible uses like debunking medicine myths or responding to simple medical questions,” she tells Aslanyan. “There are a lot of possibilities for the future of Florence. Mostly that it can become the first line of primary care that would initially relieve some of the pressure on the medical professionals.”

Can chatbots become culturally acceptable?

For Tim Mackey, an associate professor at the University of San Diego and the co-founder of healthcare big data startup S-3 Research, the key question is whether chatbots will become culturally acceptable for people.

“I think the thing that’s important for public health people to understand is that we can’t just depend on technology to solve all our problems,” he says. “We have to give it time to develop and we have to invest more in it.”

Funding research and implementation of new technologies is one of the key challenges of the field, both experts point out.

“Most of the digital health projects are focused on market needs that are highly profitable and scalable,” Aboelwaffa highlights. “That’s because innovations that do not have a proven financial return on investment are still extremely limited because they don’t get funded.”

Mackey and Aboelwaffa also emphasise the significant positive impact that new technologies are already having in many fields of healthcare, a trend that has been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There’s a lot of innovation coming forward in the future and also being developed right now, and a lot of it is focused on a suite of digital health tools that can be used to enhance public health,” remarks Mackey.

“The thing I’m most excited about is data,” says the consultant, sharing what she is witnessing in the Middle East. “Data is the bedrock for providing evidence for informed interventions within the health system. Many different health systems within the region have been implementing national-level systems to collect, aggregate and report on data.”

Asked about how she sees the healthcare of the future, Aboelwaffa says that she thinks it is going to be “participatory, preventative, personalised, democratised and destigmatised.”

“It basically means that health systems will empower people to take charge of their own health, shift to more preventative approaches to keep the population in this magic circle of wellness, and provide tailored health services that address specific needs of the individual regardless of their age, sex, gender, and income,” she concludes.

Image Credits: TDR.

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