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From diagnosis and monitoring of chronic diseases to robotic surgeries, here’s how artificial intelligence is reimagining the healthcare sector in India and the world

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) have already started making inroads into various industries. Healthcare is emerging as one of the biggest beneficiaries of the AI revolution. The technology is capable of facilitating easy and secure access to patient medical data, understanding and analysing their conditions. This ultimately helps improve accuracy and efficiency in the diagnosis and modernisation of health care practices.

An example of an elementary implementation of AI is the use of chatbots and virtual assistants that can take care of basic yet tedious tasks like registering medical records, clinical workflows and monitoring lab results – all in an automated and secure process. Another example is applying machine-learning algorithms to patient-generated data to tailor new treatment plans that will eventually help better serve individuals.

AI in healthcare: Opportunities for the world and India

According to an Accenture report published in December 2017, key clinical healthcare AI apps can create $150 billion in annual savings for the United States healthcare economy by 2026. “Growth in the AI health market is expected to reach $6.6 billion by 2021—that’s a compound annual growth rate of 40%,” says the report.

Another report by the CIS India published earlier this year, AI could help add $957 billion to the Indian economy by 2035. “…investment in AI in the Indian healthcare industry appears to be growing. For example, of the $5.5 billion raised by global digital healthcare companies In the July-September 2017 quarter, at least 16 Indian healthcare IT companies received funding,” the report said.

“State governments are also providing support to AI startups – with reports quoting the Karnataka government mobilising 2,000 crore by 2020 towards supporting the same. The Karnataka government also has a Startup Policy and Karnataka Information Technology Venture Capital Fund that can support AI startups,” it added.

A Transparency Market Research (TMR) report published in May 2017 suggests that the global healthcare automation market is growing at a CAGR of 8.8% and will touch $58.98 billion by the end of 2025, up from $28.31 billion in 2016.

Top AI implementation in healthcare

Diagnosis

One of the biggest advantages of AI is going to be diagnosis. The technology can help industry stakeholders collate the massive health data that is available. It is estimated that more than 80% of the health data is unstructured, making it invisible to current systems, according to a PWC report.

Fortunately, technology firms like IBM and Google have already come up with solutions. Google’s DeepMind Health platform is working with clinics and health institutes across the world to implement Artificial Intelligence.

IBM’s popular AI, Watson, is using cognitive technology to process and analyse the vast data. “Watson can review and store far more medical information – every medical journal, symptom, and case study of treatment and response around the world – exponentially faster than any human. And it doesn’t just store data, it’s capable of finding meaning in it. Unlike humans, its decisions are all evidence-based and free of cognitive biases or overconfidence, enabling rapid analysis and vastly reducing – even eliminating – misdiagnosis,” according to a PWC report.

Monitoring of Chronic Conditions

Conditions like diabetes, cholesterol, fertility issues and cardiac heath are managed by regular monitoring and lifestyle changes. Chronic conditions are the single- largest burden on healthcare systems globally. Connected POC devices help generate a lot of data about the user’s body parameters. This can be combined with lifestyle information like food habits, exercise, etc, by an AI algorithm to help manage the conditions and adjust dosage of medication.

AI assisted Robotic Surgery

AI assisted robotics can guide the surgeon’s instrument during a procedure, cutting down the time required to do the surgery and reducing complications.

Image Analysis

A lot of pathological evaluations like microscopy for infections like malaria, differential counts, etc, depend on image analysis. Similarly, finding out abnormalities in an MRI scan is done through manual analysis by a radiologist. In both the cases, AI can help by screening the image analysis to help the pathologist or the radiologist give a faster and more accurate diagnosis.

Using the fitness wearables

From Fitbit, Xiaomi Mi Band to Apple Watch, there are a number of smart fitness-focused wearables available. These fitness devices are coupled with applications that provide a deeper insight on the individual’s health on a daily basis. What AI can do is here is create an encrypted data and share it with the doctors or relevant people to help the individuals with better and personalised suggestions to help achieve their fitness goals.

Drug discovery

The AI has the potential to help researchers create drugs as well. One of the popular names in this field is Atomwise, which uses deep learning process to reduce the time taken to discover new drugs. The six-year-old company raised more than $51 million in funding earlier this year. The company also said that it is offering over 50 molecular discovery programmes.

Even IBM is utilising its Watson AI to help accelerate drug research. “The platform allows researchers to generate new hypotheses with the help of dynamic visualizations, evidence-backed predictions and natural language processing trained in the life sciences domain. It is used by pharmaceutical companies, medical device companies and academic institutions to assist with new drug target identification and drug repurposing,” IBM explains on its website.

AI in Healthcare and India

India is also joining a growing list of the countries that are using AI in the healthcare. The adoption of AI in India is being propelled by the likes of Microsoft and a slew of health-tech startups. For instance, Manipal Hospitals, headquartered in Bengaluru, is using IBM Watson for Oncology, a cognitive-computing platform, to assist physicians discover personalised cancer care options, according to an Accenture report. For cardiac care, Columbia Asia Hospitals in Bengaluru is leveraging startup Cardiotrack’s AI solutions to predict and diagnose cardiac diseases.

“Last year the company embarked on Healthcare NExT, a Microsoft initiative which aims to accelerate healthcare innovation through AI and cloud computing. By working side-by-side with the healthcare industry’s most pioneering players, we are bringing Microsoft’s capabilities in research and product development to help healthcare providers, biotech companies and organizations across India use AI and the cloud to innovate,” said Anil Bhansali, Corporate Vice President, Cloud & Enterprise, Managing Director, Microsoft India (R&D) Private Limited.

Some of the initiatives of Microsoft India in healthcare include a Microsoft Intelligent Network for Eyecare (MINE) project where the company is working the government of Telangana for its Rashtriya Bal Swasthya Karyakram. The state government has adopted the MINE an AI platform to reduce avoidable blindness.

Microsoft also has a partnership with Apollo Hospitals to use AI for early detection of cardiac diseases. “The partnership between Microsoft and Apollo will enable to develop and deploy new machine learning models to predict patient risk for heart disease and assists doctors on treatment plans,” said Anil.

Healthi is a four-year-old Bengaluru-based digital health and wellness startup. The company uses predictive analytics, personalisation algorithms and machine learning to deliver personalised health suggestions.

“India faces a chronic disease risk burden. It is on its way to becoming the diabetic capital of the world with about 6% of the population diagnosed with the condition. A quarter of the population has high blood pressure or hypertension. Not just this, many people especially those in the age group of 25 to 40 are also being diagnosed with cardiovascular diseases (Journal of the American Medical Association (Jama) Internal Medicine). Thus, prevention and management of chronic diseases is an area where AI-led user engagement solutions can play a vital role,” said Rekuram Varadharaj, Co-founder and COO, healthi.

“India is extremely short in doctors at all levels, General Physicians to diagnose and help manage chronic conditions to specialist’s in Pathology and radiology. AI can help the doctors in faster diagnosis allowing them to focus on reviewing the data given by AI algorithms and work on complicated cases that AI cannot handle,” said Aayush Rai, Co-Founder, Inito, a Bengaluru-based start up.