How AI is already changing health care | Inquirer Opinion

How AI is already changing health care

/ 04:15 AM May 06, 2024

Bangkok—It’s all about saving more lives and helping us live longer, better lives—something we’ve always wanted, right? The cool part is, AI or artificial intelligence isn’t just some future dream; it’s making a real difference as we speak, and it’s only going to get bigger and faster from here on.

Today, AI is being used successfully in several real-world health-care applications, performing at the same level or even better than a trained human. One such task is the diagnosis of chest x-ray images. AI can diagnose more than nine lung diseases, such as lung cancer, pneumonia, tuberculosis, and most recently COVID-19, with over 99 percent accuracy, surpassing human radiologists in certain standard test benchmarks. Using a special Fundus camera to take close-up photos of the eye’s retina, AI can also identify the prevalent diagnosis of diabetes with very high accuracy. AI trained to “listen” can also identify speech-affected symptoms caused by Alzheimer’s or strokes with such accuracy that it can be used for pre-screening, especially for strokes where timely diagnosis and treatment are crucial. Perhaps more usefully, for certain diseases, AI has the predictive power to determine whether, and when, a disease will manifest in a person based on patient information, enabling proactive prevention measures.

AI chatbots have also been used successfully to help screen initial diagnoses through symptom interviews, reducing wait times and doctors’ workloads, while increasing response efficiency. Simple diseases that usually overload the health-care system can often be easily screened out through this type of interview-based diagnosis, while human doctors are typically required for more complicated cases.

With AI, health care becomes more accessible even in remote areas where the lack of qualified doctors may necessitate its use. Since it can be used anywhere and at any time, often requiring only a smartphone with a microphone and camera, an AI application can perform the heavy lifting of initial diagnosis evaluation. A mobile unit equipped with special equipment and an AI application can also be set up to serve remote areas, eliminating the need for specially trained personnel.


While these AI systems have been proven to work well, sometimes even surpassing the capabilities of trained human health-care workers, they are still recommended for use as an assistant to human workers. Research shows that a radiologist performs more than 15 tasks a day, with reading and interpreting x-ray images being only one of these. The fact that AI can perform one task as well as human radiologists does not mean we should or can replace all radiologists. On the contrary, having AI as an assistant means a reduced workload for health-care workers, who will supervise the AI to help in screening cases and serving as a first response. Human health-care workers, with more free time, can attend to higher-level tasks such as talking to patients, reading between the lines, and understanding the context of the patient for better, more holistic, and more humane treatment.

Imagine an elderly woman coming in with multiple symptoms; the treatment of the disease may be just part of the reason she comes to the hospital, because sometimes all she needs is someone to talk to since there is no one else at home. Only a human can understand her living conditions, perhaps recognizing that she has no one to remind her when to take her medicine, and that part of the cause of certain symptoms is merely loneliness. The “treatment” might be planned differently than for someone who is younger and lives in different circumstances from the elderly lady. Having a human connection and empathy is a task that AI currently struggles to match and may not even achieve in the near future.

Behind the scenes, AI has also been used to assist in drug discovery. It can analyze a vast amount of data and predict the outcome of certain drugs even before they are manufactured or tested in a living organism. This helps in speeding up the process, reducing resource waste, and lowering the risk of serious side effects in living test subjects. Furthermore, AI can pave the way for personalized medicine, where patients receive treatment tailored to them based on AI predictions. This is because some medicines can be effective for one person but not for another, depending on genetic profile and other environmental and behavioral factors.

AI’s already getting busy in health care, and is certainly set to seriously upgrade our lives pretty soon. The Nation/Asia News Network


First published as an editorial in The Nation.

The Philippine Daily Inquirer is a member of the Asia News Network, an alliance of 22 media titles in the region.

Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Your subscription has been successful.

Subscribe to our daily newsletter

By providing an email address. I agree to the Terms of Use and acknowledge that I have read the Privacy Policy.


© Copyright 1997-2024 | All Rights Reserved

We use cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. By continuing, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. To find out more, please click this link.