Artificial intelligence and machine learning are already supporting longer, healthier lives
Intelligent Automation is more than a way to revolutionize business and save money — it also has the potential to save lives by the millions and increase healthy life expectancy. Intelligent automation is easily applied to medical diagnosis and research to prevent unnecessary deaths. In addition, it provides more equitable access to healthcare worldwide. It also can be used in transport to augment the abilities of human drivers, preventing deaths and injuries from traffic accidents.
Chronic non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and respiratory illnesses are responsible for 70% of global deaths.
An essential characteristic of these diseases is that recovery rates are higher the earlier the disease is detected. Machine learning (ML) and IA can save lives by analyzing scans and other medical data such as blood pressure to produce quick and reliable diagnoses. Unsurprisingly, ML can process lung or breast scans in minutes or seconds where a human would take hours, but what's more remarkable is that it has advantages over doctors when it comes to identifying cancer.
Another common factor among these diseases is the potential to find cures through research. Machine learning supports innovation in medical research (e.g., by simulating the combination of molecules). It also plays a vital role by automating the documentation and checking of clinical trials, freeing up human researchers for higher-level cognitive tasks, and making the research process quicker and more efficient.
Medical errors are a sad and often overlooked element of modern healthcare. In the U.S., they cause over 250,000 deaths per year, which is higher than any other single factor except heart disease and cancer.
In 2006, Emily Jerry, a two-year-old recovering from cancer, tragically died after a pharmacy technician gave her 20 times the recommended concentration of an intravenous saline solution. Emily's father wrote, "Medical-care workers are dedicated, caring people, but they are human. And human beings make mistakes."
In conjunction with human professionals, IA can double-check prescriptions and identify discrepancies from doctors’ instructions or medical best practices. It is never tired nor distracted, so it is not vulnerable to lapses in concentration, which happen to everyone but can have disastrous consequences in healthcare.
IA can also monitor patients' health in real-time. It can alert a nurse or doctor about an emergency based on a patient's blood pressure, heart rate, or other vital signs. It can even detect patterns that predict heart attacks, strokes, or sepsis in advance, saving lives and freeing up doctors' and nurses' time from data collection.
The global disparity in wealth and resources means that many people in the developing world die of diseases that are easily preventable in wealthier countries, primarily due to inadequate access to healthcare. According to the WHO, there is a global shortage of 4.3 million healthcare professionals.
IA technology brings healthcare to anyone with access to a smartphone, an increasing proportion of people, even in regions that lack other infrastructure and technology. Applications can link patients with doctors remotely, while diagnostic tools can partially take the doctor's place by diagnosing skin conditions, burns, and chronic wounds based on a digital photo.
Medical care often requires physical supplies such as vaccines or donated blood. To provide these life-saving supplies to remote locations without adequate road infrastructure, Zipline International uses innovative, intelligent drones that can deliver supplies.
Road incidents can be deadly and can cause permanent disabilities. Human error is a factor in most road accidents. There is potential for self-driving cars or IA-assisted driving technology to save lives by reducing or eliminating this factor. Research from the U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that 94% of traffic accidents happen because of human error.
Even before fully autonomous self-driving cars become the norm, IA can assist human drivers and help them to drive more safely. We already have access to kits for vehicles that monitor the driver using an internal camera, detecting when they become drowsy and alerting them. Automatic sensors also augment the human driver's vision, warning them of unexpected obstacles. Cruise control and assisted parking are further examples of IA technology working together with human drivers to help them drive more safely.
Health organizations that want to start embracing the benefits of IA should begin with the most common use cases in their industry: new patient onboarding and appointment scheduling with the support of automated workflows and cognitive agents, patient health monitoring leveraging cameras and sensors in hospital rooms, medical diagnosis and drug discovery supported by machine learning, staffing level prediction and real-time adjustment processes, automation of invoicing and claims management and patient experience improvement through real-time and 24/7 communication. If you start with these smaller, everyday processes then build forward from there, you will be able to embrace IA in ways that make your routines and processes easier from the beginning.
Overall, based on my research and expertise, I believe IA technologies could reduce early deaths by 10–30%. Back in 2017, a 20% reduction in the 56 million total annual deaths worldwide would have meant saving 14 million lives every year — the equivalent of the populations of Switzerland and Singapore.