AI Assistants in Health Care: A Treatment For Patient Communication Problems

Nostalgia is big these days, as people spend less time ‘socializing’ and more time thinking about the ‘good old days’.

Remember virtual pets, the Windows Start Maze Screensaver, ‘Who’s the Boss?’, beepers, and the colorful iMac? No one will likely miss those icky public payphones though.

But even while folks are dreaming of simpler and less scary times, there is a profound shift to accepting new technology advances.

In health care, there is a move away from needing a ‘face to face’ appointment with a doctor, even among the elderly population. Using a computer to check in with your family physician is not so strange any more.

Virtual healthcare is becoming more widespread during the pandemic. Currently, it reduces the risk of COVID-19 spread, gives access to treatment for patients in quarantine, and simplifies the process of getting a prescription renewal.

Whether or not this type of patient care continues after a vaccine is secured, is a topic of discussion

There is also increased interest in AI in healthcare, even though the pandemic is delaying projects

The surest sign of age is loneliness

Annie Dillard

Personal virtual assistants have the capability to do so much more than give the time or temperature, set a timer, and play music. 

It has been difficult for many seniors this year; senior community centres are closed, church choir is banned in many areas, and air travel to see family is considered risky.

Loneliness can lead to physical problems, which would likely prove serious for an older person with pre-existing conditions.

Digital assistants, using voice technology, can provide some companionship. AI-powered devices also can be programmed to remind a senior to take their pills, allowing them to better manage their personal health.

Chatbots, using natural language processing, are popping up more frequently in the healthcare field, providing services such as counseling. But as with everything, there are skeptics.

At the end...

It is something not many people want to think about; what happens when I can’t speak for myself?

Yes, artificial intelligence can analyse health information to determine a time frame in which a patient may pass away.

But, it is clear from the growing interest in living wills, that it is also about how a person is treated and whether they can maintain a sense of dignity.

So, artificial intelligence and machine learning are being used to evaluate a terminal patient’s condition in the last few days of life ( while in a hospital or at home) and recommend changes to their health care plan.

The pandemic

In the early days of the crisis in North America, health care systems in some regions were overwhelmed by seriously ill COVID-19 victims.

In New York City ambulances, sirens wailing, transported patients with dangerously low oxygen levels, struggling to breathe, and often unable to speak.

In the U.K., some doctors have been using deep learning to assist in hospital triage. The AI assistants can scan lung x-rays and identify which cases require the most urgent attention.

Given staff shortages, due to the sheer number of patients and healthcare professionals becoming sick themselves, it’s clear this could alleviate some of the stress and workload. 

Another area of concern throughout the pandemic has been the use of ventilators. Panic set in worldwide as countries raced to buy enough of the lifesaving equipment. In some places, difficult decisions were made. AI could also be used to anticipate whether a patient would need a ventilator and which ones could suffer serious lung problems.

The doctor files

Is there anyone on the planet who actually enjoys doing the ‘paperwork’ side of their job? 

I’ve actually considered going with my married name, Julia Hall, but all the paperwork.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus (star of Veep and Seinfeld)

For doctors, the notion of paperwork is on a far higher level. Patient files must be accurate and the updates could be frequent. Finding time to do this might be difficult in the best of times, and 2020 isn’t looking great so far. 

Nuance Communications is one company that uses speech recognition technology for medical transcription. The software has the ability to save time for doctors, who have the ultimate goal of providing better patient care.

TBI

A serious brain injury caused by a car accident, a fall, or a workplace accident is devastating for the victim and their family.

For the healthcare team, a plan must be devised for the patient who suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) and is now unconscious or in a coma.

The patient is unable to communicate with doctors or nurses; so the team needs to carefully analyse the mountain of data. That’s where AI assistants can help by providing a prognosis, proposing treatment options, and dealing with sudden changes in the patient’s condition.

Does the AI think it’s smarter than you?

It’s a frightening concept (or perhaps a window into the future); what if a ‘computer’ decided whether you live or die?

What if no ‘human’ was even involved in your personal health care? Wow.

Consider what’s happening now then, AI machine learning.

Artificial intelligence actually in charge, determining whether it or its human counterpart (sorry, doctors) make better health decisions.

AI assistants in healthcare are here to stay and will be expanding their reach and responsibilities in the months and years to come.  But if all that is too much to handle, try wrapping your head around this one….
Hackers try to ‘hack’... your… brain. Right.

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