Here and now: the reality of AI in healthcare

25 November 2020


Artificial intelligence (AI) will not replace clinicians but those clinicians who use AI will replace those who don’t – this was the message from experts in the opening session of the EIT Health Summit Series, which explored the implementation of AI in healthcare. 

At the event’s online launch on Tuesday (24 Nov), Dr Bertalan Meskó, director of The Futurist Institute and Dr John Halamka, president of the Mayo Clinic Platform, urged stakeholders not to be left behind by failing to embrace AI.

Discussing the topic, Implementing AI in Healthcare: Success Beyond the Buzzword, which was moderated by EIT Health’s director of innovation, Jorge Juan Fernández, the speakers highlighted the critical benefits of adopting AI in our healthcare systems, including delivering complex care in the home. 

Changing the way we deliver care

Over the next decade, the Mayo Clinic’s ambition is to become an expert in digital therapeutics and virtual care.

Dr Halamka outlined how the Mayo Clinic’s drive to progress the development of algorithms had created a completely new business model for healthcare. This has led to the creation of an advanced virtual care at home product, currently treating over 50 patients with serious or complex disease in their homes in Florida and Wisconsin, US.

This care involves the installation of remote patient monitors in the home, which send data on pulse, glucose levels, weight and more to the demand centre, where AI algorithms make sense of it to create dashboards that are monitored by clinicians. They then base their care and interventions on this constant flow of information.

Dr Halamka explained: “It delivers the same quality and the same outcomes at a lower cost in non-traditional settings. By 2030, the Mayo Clinic will see a significant expansion in the amount of care delivered at a distance in non-traditional settings and we will train the next generations of professionals to do this.”

From the European perspective, Dr Meskó agreed that rather than replacing HCPs, AI will work to support the decision-making process and remove the administrative burden currently placed on doctors and nurses, and ultimately, enabling patients to be placed at the centre of healthcare.

The availability of apps and sensors to measure our health will create the pathway to the ‘patient of the future’ where patients are managing their own health data.

“As we dive further into digital health, patients will become more and more empowered,” said Dr Meskó. “The patient of the future will need some sort of AI to help them understand this myriad of data.”

Overcoming the challenges

Yet, while the potential for AI is “extraordinary” so are the challenges in adopting it in Europe, including accessing data, adherence to GDPR, lack of skills and trust in the technology from practitioner to patient, which we need to overcome.

The Mayo Clinic is already solving many data security issues. To create single electronic patient records critical for healthcare’s digital transition, it has developed a thorough de-identification process, which is stress-tested by a third party and the data is then stored in an encrypted container in Google Cloud. Innovators are invited to use this data to exercise new products and develop algorithms, but they can never take the data with them.

“The only thing that leaves this environment is new knowledge,” added Dr Halamka.

In his vision of the future, Dr Meskó suggested that greater use of technology doesn’t mean less need for clinicians.  In fact, when developed correctly, he believes AI technology can enable more interactions between the patient and doctor.

He said: “AI could remove every interface [in the consulting room] and what’s left is a clinician talking to a patient, having a real-life conversation based on trust, while being surrounded by invisible, seamless technology that is managed and controlled by AI.”

Both speakers agreed that there won’t be many diagnostic processes that are not fully supported by AI in the next five to ten years.

The EIT Health Summit was opened by Alexander von Gabain, Chairman of the Supervisory Board at EIT Health and Jan-Philipp Beck, CEO of EIT Health. They outlined the critical innovation driven by EIT Health in this remarkable year, which included the important adoption of digital technologies, such as AI in the COVID-19 response.

Don’t worry if you missed the live session, you can watch the recording here.