Could AI Do More Harm Than Good in Healthcare?
Wed, April 21, 2021

Could AI Do More Harm Than Good in Healthcare?

AI has been a part and plays a critical role in the healthcare industry and possibly the future of the said industry / Photo Credit: Shutterstock


Artificial intelligence has been playing a critical role in industries for decades. It has also begun to lead the healthcare industry. Forbes, a global media company focusing on business, investing, technology, entrepreneurship, leadership, and lifestyle, reported that the spending on this sector is projected to jump from $2.1 billion to $36.1 billion by 2025. This comes as no surprise since AI applications are revolutionizing the industry, from hospital care and clinical research to drug development and insurance.

Research firm Accenture projected that these top AI applications may result in annual savings of $150 billion by 2026. While it would take a decade to fundamentally reshape the healthcare industry, its benefits would be felt across the sector. “It’s going to take years to get the full promise, but it does bring a particular tool into the dialogue that was never before available,” Kaveh Safavi, head of Accenture’s global health practice, said. 

PwC, a global network of firms delivering world-class assurance, tax, and consulting services for businesses, analyzed more than 300 AI use cases and discovered that “the majority of AI’s economic impact will come from the consumption side, through higher-quality, more personalized, and more data-driven products and services.” It is projected that some AI applications in healthcare will reach billions of annual benefits with robot-assisted surgery ($40 billion) as the highest. It will be followed by virtual nursing assistants ($20 billion), administrative workflow assistance ($18 billion), and fraud detection ($17 billion), among others



Potential Benefits of AI in Healthcare

Throughout the years, experts at organizations across the sector have considered the many applications of AI and recognized the promise it holds for the future of care delivery. Previous studies have shown that the technology can predict hospital readmissions, accelerate disease diagnosis, and accurately detect cancer in medical images. These capabilities could mean improved patient outcomes, more precise treatments, and ultimately, lower care costs.

According to the Brookings Institution, a nonprofit public policy organization that aims to conduct in-depth research that leads to new ideas for solving problems facing society at the local, national, and global levels, one of the major roles that AI will play in the industry is democratizing medical knowledge and excellence.

Also, it can address the problem of medical professionals when dealing with electronic medical records, typing on keyboards, and reading screens. AI systems can take relevant information about the patient’s records, which could save substantial time for providers. 

Today, many studies have been conducted to show how AI can transform the industry. For instance, researchers from the University of North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center used IBM Watson's Genomic product in identifying specific treatments for over 1,000 patients. They performed big data analysis to determine treatment options for people with tumors. Google Cloud is using AI to take data from users' electronic health records to create insights for healthcare providers. This could help in the making of better clinical decisions. 



Risks of AI in Healthcare

Unfortunately, AI has its disadvantages in the industry. According to Business Insider, a fast-growing business site with deep financial, media, tech, and other industry verticals, algorithms used in AI applications are at risk of containing unconscious bias. The industry could encounter this kind of issue because healthcare technology advancements are based on data humans provide. Reports have shown that there’s potential for coder bias and bias in machine learning to affect AI findings.

AI in healthcare could experience several privacy concerns as well. Medical professionals need to collect huge amounts of data from their patients to treat them. Thus, several patients have complained that this violates their right to privacy. In fact, lawsuits have been filed based on data-sharing between large health systems and AI developers. 

At the same time, health data is often problematic. Information like insurance claims records, pharmacy records, electronic health records, or consumer-generated information like fitness trackers or purchasing history are needed to train AI systems. Often, these data are fragmented across many different systems. This increases the risk of error, increases the expense of gathering data, and decreases the comprehensiveness of datasets. 

AI is not perfect. This means that there’s a chance that AI systems could fail, which can endanger a patient’s life. Their conditions could worsen when these systems fail to do their jobs like noticing a tumor on a radiological scan or recommending the right drug.


There is also a downside of using AI in healthcare systems such as a risk of containing an unconscious bias / Photo Credit: Shutterstock


Reducing the Risk

A recent article written by INSEAD researchers took an in-depth look at the risks associated with AI in the healthcare industry. The article published in the Science journal suggested that the key to strong regulation is to prioritize continuous risk monitoring. According to Tech Xplore, an online site that covers the latest engineering, electronics, and technology advancements, the authors stated that the regulators should focus particularly on continuous monitoring and risk assessment to manage risks, and focus less on planning for future algorithm changes. 

This could be done using AI and machine learning. "Our goal is to emphasize the risks that can arise from unanticipated changes in how medical AI/ML systems react or adapt to their environments. Subtle, often unrecognized parametric updates or new types of data can cause large and costly mistakes,” the authors said. 

While the changes and benefits brought about by AI in the industry are very promising, regulators should also take note of the risks and address them immediately. Safeguarding our healthcare system should be of top priority.