AI could support medical decision-making in an unprecedented way, says health expert

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

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[EIT Health]

Dr Bertalan Mesko, PhD is The Medical Futurist and the Director of The Medical Futurist Institute analysing how science fiction technologies can become reality in medicine and healthcare. 

Along with John D. Halamka, President of the Mayo Clinic Platform, he will be bringing his expertise to this year’s EIT Health Summit Series, as part of the ‘Implementing AI in health’​ session taking place on Tuesday 24 November.

Ahead of the session, EIT Health caught up with Dr Mesko to find out his latest thinking on AI, the opportunities it presents, and the obstacles we must overcome.

We’re in the midst of a pandemic that’s seen digital technologies adopted much quicker than we’ve previously seen – does it offer new opportunities for the adoption of AI in your opinion?

Dr Mesko: First of all, the very first report about a potential outbreak in Wuhan came from a Canadian start-up called BlueDot that used AI to scan through public health and airline ticketing data. A week before traditional reporting alerted official bodies. Besides that, a myriad of studies have been published since the beginning of the pandemic about how AI is being used widely to organise the supply chain of medical equipment, help diagnose COVID-19 based on radiology scans; or help find novel drug combinations through network medicine.

We know there are still concerns about the social and ethical elements of AI and at The Medical Futurist, we have been talking about these issues for a long time, as have EIT Health. We need to find a way of using AI to identify solutions, while putting our trust in regulatory bodies such as the European Medicine Agency (EMA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) who have rigorous approval processes every company and technology must meet to ensure only safe products reach patients.

We know that to truly transform our healthcare systems, we need to look at more sustainable ways of delivering health care and work towards better prevention. What are the possibilities for using AI in this way?

Dr Mesko: There is a huge amount of data patients can measure about themselves besides the medical records, scans and notes their medical professionals can obtain. It has been becoming increasingly challenging to analyse that vast amount of data without the use of advanced algorithms. Therefore, the role AI will have in all this is making sense of the data. This way, AI could support medical decision-making in an unprecedented way: looking at every medical study, textbook and new finding and providing only those pieces of information patients and their caregivers need.

As has long been seen as the revolution that could change how we do things in healthcare. How can we prepare for this revolution?

Dr Mesko: Neither the workforce, nor the digital infrastructure is prepared for AI. Regarding the workforce, medical curriculums can be updated with such a skillset and knowledge that would help them prepare and some universities in Europe such as Semmelweis Medical School have been doing that.

Regarding the infrastructure, there might be a trick in the system. Similarly to how the video gaming industry has been moving to the cloud, it could happen to healthcare too. In short, it is possible today to use a not so strong personal computer and buy processing power through the cloud playing with games that require high-level hardware. Maybe the same faith awaits medical practices with low level digital infrastructure. They could benefit from cloud-based services faster than upgrading their own hardware.

Is there a concern that the introduction of AI will see healthcare professionals delivering less direct patient care?

Dr Mesko: Artificial narrow intelligence can perform a very well defined, single task. It can learn how to play chess at an advanced level, how to spot tumours on CT scans or predict if a patient would have acute kidney injury while staying in the hospital. But the job of a clinician is much more complex than that.

In summary, AI will not replace medical professionals. However, medical professionals who use AI will replace those that do not.

What can people expect from your part of the AI session?

Dr Mesko: I want people to leave with a much clearer picture of the impact AI will have on healthcare and medicine in the future. There’s still a lot of fear of the unknown and I want to offer an objective view of where we’re heading and how we can prepare.


To hear more from Dr Mesko and other leading figures from across the healthcare industry, register now for the EIT Health Summit series, a free, virtual event taking place 24 November – 3 December.

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