AI and machine learning have the potential to transform the way we deliver healthcare — helping to increase efficiency, overcome staff shortfalls and save money. Healthcare providers need to move fast to prepare and understanding the role of IP is crucial. Our expert, Terence Broderick, explains why…
Healthcare and its advances are one of the truly celebratory stories of the last century. In the UK, our NHS has saved millions of lives and transformed millions more. The development of medicine worldwide has enabled us to combat the COVID-19 pandemic and in the past, smallpox, Spanish flu, polio and malaria (to name but a few) have been treated effectively due to advances in medical technology.
However, the growing demand for healthcare has caused costs to rise exponentially and there is constant demand for improvement. Current technology simply can't keep pace.
AI and automation
A recent report by McKinsey and Company highlights the potential for Artificial Intelligence (AI) to transform healthcare. It states that that AI and the automation it provides will both address the need for better and more cost-efficient care and overcome some of the staff shortfall which currently compromises the healthcare system.
This rings true as we consider the shift in medical practice from a focus on symptoms to molecular and cellular focused delivery. The latter generates enormous amounts of data — far too much for a human to process efficiently, but an amount (and a level of detail) which would enable suitably configured computers — those which apply principles of AI and machine learning to deliver an output which has never been possible before.
We’ve previously discussed how the focus on data makes the system vulnerable, but it’s clear that a properly protected system can generate opportunities to increase the quality and efficiency of healthcare delivery.
Enhancing the role of practitioners
The report concludes that AI could transfer healthcare across its framework, including triage and diagnosis, care delivery and even processing the enormous amounts of data involved in drug development.
It also outlines that AI won’t simply automate tasks — it points out five key areas where AI can enhance the role of the healthcare practitioner and enable them to work more efficiently.
- Focusing energy on patients, spending less time on admin
- Increasing the speed and accuracy of diagnostics
- Focusing on engagement with ever more informed patients
- Developing more complex remote monitoring
- Improving teamwork, as knowledge becomes less important and the ability to process output and develop solutions becomes the focus of day-to-day operations
Moving forward — the importance of protection
There is a long way to go before we frequently see AI in action in our hospitals and surgeries. However, given its potential to streamline the procedures that take up time and resource today, the motivation to integrate AI is clear. This is before we see the benefits that could be obtained by applying the principles of AI and machine learning to data to obtain insights beyond what a human can see.
It’s important to protect any innovation you develop in this area, as the demand for technology which improves healthcare will be enormous. Technological developments are typically protected by patents, but a hot topic is whether AI is even patentable. The key question you should ask about your technology is: does it address a technical problem?
The meaning of ‘technical problem’ is very broad, but a good way to think about it in the context of AI is to ask yourself if, by applying the principles of AI to the current state of the art, you have made it better in some way. This could be more accurate outputs from analysing medical data, providing input to a decision which makes that decision process faster, or improving a treatment in some way.