Trends to Look Out For
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is bettering the world in myriad ways, and its next task is to revolutionize healthcare. According to Dr Robert Wachter, MD – chair of the Department of Medicine at the University of San Francisco – radiology, dermatology and pathology will soon be upended by the technology. In his latest book,The Digital Doctor: Hope, Hype, and Harm at the Dawn of Medicine’s Computer Age, Dr Wachter outlines his case for why AI and other technologies are joining forces to create a “digital tsunami”. In many ways, 2016 will mark the tipping point, as improvements in underlying technologies that power AI have helped more than three dozen startups to expand their presence in the market.
Putting specific technologies aside for a moment, the biggest trend to watch may be how advances are dramatically altering the healthcare landscape. The rush to integrate smart devices, telemedicine, sensors and robots is creating an arms race and the winners will likely be a combination of large hospital groups, pharmacy chains (e.g. Walgreens, CVS, and Walmart), big pharma and device players, as well as insurers – all of whom are well-funded and have deep pockets and clear reasons to want to protect future revenue streams. This trend will likely squeeze out independent clinics and rural hospitals.
From the patient’s perspective, the provisioning of primary care will be dramatically altered and, in the not-too-distant future, most “doctor”-patient interactions will happen via remote device or automated diagnosis. In instances of non-acute care, the first line of triage will likely shift emergency rooms to aid stations located within pharmacies. Even then, the primary caregiver will not be a doctor, but registered nurses supported by AI-powered devices. Whilst this vision of the healthcare market will not materialize tomorrow, we are definitely on a path towards something pretty close.
Nexus of Cost Pressures & Technology
For years, the healthcare industry has been trying to overcome cost pressures driven by resource scarcity (e.g. doctor and nurse shortages) and an ever-increasing demand for services. In developed countries, the situation is nearing breaking point and many countries are spending more today on healthcare than ever before. According to the OECD (Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development), member countries allocate roughly 9 per cent of their GDP towards healthcare; in the US, it is nearly double.
Where industry analysts once assumed technology could do little to disrupt the healthcare industry, the opposite appears to be true. According to Dmitry Kaminskiy of Deep Knowledge Ventures, we have “seen the emergence of a new breed of company in this space, one with the opportunity to disrupt healthcare as we know it.” Mr. Kaminskiy is not alone. In 2015, Deloitte listed AI as one of the technologies already transforming the healthcare industry on global scale.
Trends to Watch
To date, three dozen AI-centric healthcare startups have raised more than $530 million in areas as diverse as drug discovery, health management, medical imaging, nutrition, and virtual assistants. While each of these areas is extremely broad, the overall trend is clear: AI is playing a crucial role in the changing face of the healthcare industry. So let’s take a look at some of the AI developers attracting investor attention in their quest to revolutionize the industry.
Drug Discovery has received a lot of attention as the cost of developing new drugs can be in the hundreds of millions, if not more. With several blockbuster drugs coming to the end of their patent protections (e.g. Viagra), pharmaceutical companies are actively searching for more effective ways to bring drugs to market. Enter TwoXAR, counting Andreessen Horowitz as one of its investors. The company has developed an engine to analyze the best drug-disease matches. A process which used to take years, through the use of AI, can be done in minutes. Shaving tens of millions from drug development cycles increasing the accuracy of drug-disease matching research.
One of the companies working to apply AI in the Health Management area isWellTok. The company is seeking to optimize consumer healthcare by combining social engagement tools with its health optimization platform. Powered by IBM’s Watson, the company has raised nearly $200 million to date. Another company to watch is AiCure, which has created an AI engine to “equip patients, researchers, and providers with the intelligence to understand the exact link between medication and health.” [ 3 ]
The company won an Innovation Award from the National Institutes of Health and has raised more than $15 million to date.
Two companies in the Medical Imaging space working to make the “digital tsunami” a reality are Arterys and VisExcell. Arterys has developed a 4D Flow Technology which can measure blood flow, non-invasively, non-radioactively, and more accurately than current practices. The company’s imaging platform relies on machine learning to assist doctors in making better decisions. VisExcell is building an AI-powered imaging system, which can be used to detect breast cancer.
Nuritas is utilizing machine learning and DNA analysis to develop personalized nutritional solutions. The company is at the forefront of researching optimization based on an individual’s specific DNA sequence, and it has already attracted investors from Singapore and the United States.
Virtual Assistants is an obvious choice for AI in general, and healthcare is no different. One company to watch in the space is Babylon Health, which, to date, has raised nearly $30 million for a system that will help patients to receive remote medical advice. With more than 86% of all healthcare spending aimed at treating long-developing, chronic-conditions, large-scale adoption could dramatically alter doctor-patient models.
Questions Remain, but AI in Healthcare is Here to Stay
Besides issues surrounding privacy, security, standards of care, and changing behaviors, Dr Anil Jain recently noted a deeper philosophical question – that is “how can [ doctors ] aggregate all the data input generated within our four walls to do right for our patients?” [ 6 ]
While this question has surrounded every advance in healthcare, this may well be AI’s strength as the utilization of AI-related technologies will enable caregivers to make informed decisions based on facts, ultimately leading to a higher percentage of desired outcomes at a lower cost per patient.
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Source: De Felice, Mitch. CIO. Is the patient the cure to AI healthcare ills?. http://goo.gl/G6XPdi. Retrieved 24 April 2016.
Source: Williams, Shannon. ChannelLifeNZ. Artificial intelligence in healthcare a $6 billion industry. https://goo.gl/aIjp6O. Retrieved 24 April 2016.
Source. AiCure. https://goo.gl/zJk8Tl. Retrieved 23 April 2016.
Source: Diagnostics and Interventional Cardiology. Arterys Partners with GE Healthcare to Launch Viosworks Cardiac Imaging Platform. http://goo.gl/uFclJk. Retrieved 24 April 2016.
Source: Mizroch, Amir. The Wall Street Journal. Artificial Intelligence Ethics a New Focus at Cambridge University. http://goo.gl/09EyyF. Retrieved 24 April 2016.
Source: Hospitals & Health Networks. 12 Ways Artificial Intelligence Will Transform Health Care. http://goo.gl/FI07zE. Retrieved 23 April 2016.