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Five benefits of artificial intelligence in healthcare

The future of artificial intelligence (AI) in healthcare looks promising, with 10 per cent of general practitioners and 21 per cent of specialists in Canada already using AI professionally.1

Characterized by an ability to “perform the cognitive functions we usually associate with human minds,” AI has been gradually integrating into daily life and growing more sophisticated since the 1970s.2 And in recent years, adoption has increased exponentially, having doubled since 2017.3

One of the most significant recent advancements was the launch of ChatGPT in 2022, introducing what’s commonly known as “generative AI” or “conversational AI” to the general population. This technology opened doors for healthcare use cases, such as chatbots that provide medical support and information. Just a few months later, Google developed Med-PaLM, a large language model designed to provide high-quality answers to medical questions.3 There’s more to come, too. In the coming months, TELUS Health will launch new, intelligent automation functionality within the TELUS Collaborative Health Record (CHR) that leverages AI to empower healthcare professionals, patients and administrative staff.

While AI is not meant to, and cannot, replace the role of healthcare professionals, it can complement human skills by providing support and assistance with various medical tasks.

Here are some emerging AI in healthcare examples to watch.

1. Streamlining administrative tasks

One of the most significant benefits of AI in healthcare is its potential to automate repetitive, time-consuming administrative tasks. We’ve already seen the power of AI to schedule patient follow-up appointments when it identifies urgent results on scans.

Now, generative AI technology is augmenting this by automatically initiating processes such as filling in forms, and processing referrals or requisitions directly from a patient’s history. This saves healthcare professionals time and improves the efficiency of their practices.4 CHR Smart Automation can reduce administrative burden by automatically triaging and matching incoming documents to patient files or, for new patients, streamlining the creation of new records based on these documents.

2. Supporting patient engagement and adherence

AI technology can help patients better understand their health and treatment plans. We previously discussed how wearable devices powered by AI algorithms can identify patterns in a patient's vital signs or behaviour and alert them when they may need to take action.

Today, AI-powered chatbots can also provide patients with personalized reminders and support for sticking to their treatment plans. The World Economic Forum predicts AI may help automate diet recording,5 potentially increasing the accuracy of the records and easing the burden of tracking patients.

3. Facilitating patient education

AI has huge potential to empower patients by democratizing access to medical information. AI-driven tools — such as virtual assistants and health apps — can offer patients personalized educational resources, practical tips for managing their condition, and insights into how they can improve their overall wellbeing.

It can also support accessibility in other ways. At the 2023 Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) Global Health Conference & Exhibition, participants discussed how conversational AI could potentially translate medical documents into accessible language.6 This could be beneficial for patients with limited health literacy, especially those in marginalized communities, who may not be familiar with complex medical terminology and instructions.

4. Assisting with diagnosis and treatment

AI algorithms can analyze vast amounts of data in record time to assist with diagnosis, identifying patterns or anomalies that may not be easily seen by the human eye. Some machine learning models have even shown promising results in detecting cancers at an early stage,7 potentially improving survival rates and reducing instances of misdiagnosis.

The applications continue to expand into areas such as treatment planning.8 In 2023, Google announced its partnership with the Mayo Clinic to develop an AI solution for radiotherapy treatment planning. This collaboration aims to use AI technology to analyze patient data and help physicians create personalized treatment plans more efficiently — potentially improving outcomes and reducing side effects.

5. Advancing drug discovery

Developing medications remains daunting and costly, with only about 14 per cent of new drugs advancing to the next approval stage.9 However, AI has shown promising results in reducing time and cost in large molecule research and clinical trial design.

A report by the Wellcome Trust and Boston Consulting Group found that AI-driven research and development efforts, from discovery to preclinical, could deliver time and cost savings of at least 25 to 50 per cent.10 Using AI algorithms to analyze vast datasets and identify potential drug candidates, researchers can streamline the process and increase their chances of approval.

AI is advancing the state of healthcare

Ultimately, AI and innovation go hand-in-hand, making it an asset to the field of medicine — when used judiciously. Medical advancements depend on continuously learning from novel insights, and AI empowers innovators to work more quickly and accurately with more extensive data. While evolving technologies must be wielded with care, they have already found a place within medical toolkits.

To learn more about the ways AI can support the work of healthcare professionals and staff, check out our discussion paper on how smart automation is easing administrative burden in medicine.

  1. Daniel Turner, V. C. S. (2023, November 23). AI: How receptive have physicians been so far? MD Analytics Inc. Retrieved November 24, 2023 
  2. Mckinsey & Company. (2023, April 24). What is AI? Retrieved November 24, 2023 
  3. Google Research. Med-PaLM. Retrieved November 24, 2023
  4. Dianne Daniel. (2023, May 1). New tools emerging to help reduce clinician burnout. Canadian Healthcare Technology. Retrieved November 24, 2023
  5. Saemoon Yoon & Lead, Yoon, S., Amara Amadiegwu & Community Specialist, & Amadiegwu, A. (n.d.). AI can make healthcare more accurate, accessible, and sustainable. Retrieved November 24, 2023
  6. Duda, D. (2023, June 30). HIMSS conference 2023 recap: AI is transforming patient engagement. Retrieved November 24, 2023
  7. Zhang, B., Shi, H., & Wang, H. (2023, June 26). Machine learning and AI in cancer prognosis, prediction, and treatment selection: A critical approach. Journal of multidisciplinary healthcare. Retrieved November 24, 2023
  8. Matias, Y. (2023, March 14). Our latest health AI research updates. Google. Retrieved November 24, 2023
  9. Greg Licholai, M. (2023, October 5). AI poised to revolutionize drug development. Forbes. Retrieved November 24, 2023
  10. Rodriguez, A., Serazin, E., Gooch, J., Aggarwal, P., &  Jayatunga, M. (2023, June 29). Unlocking the potential of AI in drug discovery. BCG Global. Retrieved November 24, 2023