Artificial Intelligence Is Now Telling Doctors How to Treat You
Long Island dermatologist Kavita Mariwalla knows how to treat acne, burns, and rashes. But when a patient came in with a potentially disfiguring case of bullous pemphigoid–a rare skin condition that causes large, watery blisters–she was stumped. The medication doctors usually prescribe for the autoimmune disorder wasn’t available. So she logged in to Modernizing Medicine, a web-based repository of medical information and insights.
Within seconds, she had the name of another drug that had worked in comparable cases. “It gives you access to data, and data is king,” Mariwalla says of Modernizing Medicine. “It’s been very helpful, especially in clinically challenging situations.”
The system, one of a growing number of similar tools around the country, lets Mariwalla tap the collective knowledge gathered from roughly 3,700 providers and more than 14 million patient visits, as well as data on treatments other doctors have provided to patients with similar profiles. Using the same kind of artificial intelligence that underpins some of the web’s largest sites, it instantly mines this data and spits out recommendations. It’s a bit like Amazon.com recommending purchases based on its massive trove of data about what people have bought in the past.
USING THE SAME KIND OF ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE THAT UNDERPINS SOME OF THE WEB’S LARGEST SITES, IT INSTANTLY MINES THIS DATA AND SPITS OUT RECOMMENDATIONS.
Tech titans like Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and Apple already have made huge investments in artificial intelligence to deliver tailored search results and buildvirtual personal assistants. Now, that approach is starting to trickle down into health care, thanks in part to the push under the health reform law to leverage new technologies to improve outcomes and reduce costs–and to the availability of cheaper and more powerful computers. In an effort to better treat their patients, doctors are now exploring the use of everything from IBM’s Watson supercomputer, the machine that won at Jeopardy, to iPhone-like pop-up notifications that appear in your online medical records.
Artificial intelligence is still in the very early stages of development–in so many ways, it can’t match our own intelligence–and computers certainly can’t replace doctors at the bedside. But today’s machines are capable of crunching vast amounts of data and identifying patterns that humans can’t. Artificial intelligence–essentially the complex algorithms that analyze this data–can be a tool to take full advantage of electronic medical records, transforming them from mere e-filing cabinets into full-fledged doctors’ aides that can deliver clinically relevant, high-quality data in real time. “Electronic health records [are] like large quarries where there’s lots of gold, and we’re just beginning to mine them,” said Dr. Eric Horvitz, who is the managing director of Microsoft Research and specializes in applying artificial intelligence in health care settings.