How artificial intelligence apps are changing patient engagement

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Artificial intelligence, or AI, has long been a scary science fiction narrative. Rebel robots have for decades revolted against their creators and doomed mankind...on our movie screens, at least.

Elon Musk, the Silicon Valley visionary, and Stephen Hawking, the great theoretical physicist, have warned that humanity is speeding towards The Singularity — the day when AI overtakes our minds and machines in intelligence. Steve Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple, which has placed bearish bets on a slew of healthcare apps, once proclaimed: "The future is scary and very bad for people. Will we be the gods? Will we be the family pets? Or will we be ants that get stepped on?"

Whether you're a doomsayer or a futurist, one thing cannot be denied: AI is poised to revolutionize healthcare IT — and it starts with the way we engage patients.

Data Mining

Data is an enabler. Healthcare providers are hoovering up information from mobile apps, personal monitoring devices and from electronic health records. "Collecting real-time data from patients living with diseases is a trove of amazing input that we've never had access to before," says Kimberly MacPherson, co-director of the Berkeley Centre for Health Technology at University of California, Berkeley. Global sales of smartphones will hit 2.3 billion by 2019, up from 1.9 billion in 2014, according to forecasts by technology analyst firm CCS Insight. Combined, these two factors are forcing explosive growth in digital health applications, with the market for mobile health expected to reach $21.5 billion in 2018, up from around $2 billion in 2013, according to BCC Research. These developments will radically change the way healthcare is both delivered and accessed.

Personalised Healthcare

Apps using deep learning, a form of AI that is trained to spot patterns in mountains of information, can mine data from millions of electronic health records with speed and efficiency that the human mind cannot. This can result in personalized patient diagnosis and treatment, according to research published by Stanford University last year, The One Hundred Year Study on Artificial Intelligence. "When you apply contextual personalization to healthcare, specifically in the area of medication adherence, it dramatically," Gilad Meiri, CEO of health tech startup Neura, which uses AI to improve patient engagement, told medGadet's Michael Batista on February 28 in the article "Improving Patient Engagement through Artificial Intelligence: Interview with Gilad Meiri, CEO & Co-Founder of Neura".

A Safer Service

This can also improve patient safety. AI apps can give patients the tools they need to manage their own healthcare, and transfer knowledge to their providers. Beyond Lucid Technologies makes software for capturing and transmitting electronic patient records. The technology connects ambulances with hospitals so they can receive patient information before arrival, saving time and ultimately improving care. "It closes a critical set of gaps," says Jonathon Feit, CEO and co-founder. "Reading pieces of paper when you need to be taking care of a patient is a problem."

Improved Access

In the future, the need for patients to be physically present for a doctor's visit will be eradicated. Patients and physicians will have the freedom to choose whether they visit a practice or meet virtually. A slew of startups in the US, including HealthTap and Doctor on Demand, already offer virtual doctor's appointments. Many are powered by AI, which can arrange appointments and respond to queries. This will improve access to healthcare for people with chronic diseases who live in rural areas; they will be able to check-in with a doctor who could be on the other side of the planet.

Enhanced Patient Engagement

This will cut out common consumer complaints about healthcare — long waiting times and a lack of cost transparency among them. Apps using AI are already able mediate dialogue between patients and doctors. Some of the more advanced forms of AI are even able to reduce the complexity of modern healthcare. For example: British health tech app Babylon can send a reminder based on data gathered on how many pills you have taken and when you need your next dose. It also knows when you're running low on pills and can automatically remind you to collect a prescription based on geolocation data gathering.

There are, of course, headwinds to the full adoption of AI-powered applications in healthcare. There are stringent legal safeguards protecting patient privacy and data that could prevent or at least slow down applications that use AI. FDA approval of diagnostic and clinical trial software is also painfully slow. "Complexity increases dramatically as drugs become more targeted and more personalized," says Artem Andrianov, CEO of Cyntegrity, a start-up that offers risk-based data monitoring services for clinical trials.


Doctors' days are not numbered, but they will have reams of data about patients' health before they even arrive — if at all — at a clinical practice, and AI will help practitioners gather this data at an unprecedented pace and from a greater number of devices than ever before. For patient engagement, apps using AI are moving the entire process online. The impact of this digital health revolution will be largely positive, as AI will personalize service, while improving access to millions and making delivery of those services safer.

The views, opinions and positions expressed within these guest posts are those of the author alone and do not represent those of Becker's Hospital Review/Becker's Healthcare. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them.

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