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AI and Digital Healthcare: The future post pandemic?

05/02/2021 | 4 min read

COVID-19 has turned our world upside down, challenging the ways that modern societies, companies and governments deal with our most difficult issues. The pandemic has changed the ways in which we operate in the future, so identifying the areas, which are affected, is an important process.

COVID-19 has turned our world upside down, challenging the ways that modern societies, companies and governments deal with our most difficult issues. The pandemic has changed the ways in which we operate in the future, so identifying the areas, which are affected, is an important process.

Healthcare systems are have been at the frontline with the battle against the virus, stretched to their upmost capacity. The prospects of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and digitalisation within the industry are inevitable, especially with the catalyst provided through the pandemic. Doctor’s appointments have been moved online, non-essential operations heavily delayed or cancelled in order to focus all resources on fighting against COVID-19. With many consultations forced to move online at such short notice, it has showed that there are aspects of healthcare, which could be made much more effective through the use of AI and open the door to ways in which healthcare could be digitalised through AI in the future.

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How can AI be applied in digital healthcare?

AI has traditionally been used in the process of identifying new drug solutions, enabling the selection of candidates for clinical trials, and monitoring patients with specific conditions, e.g. Roche used deep learning algorithms to gain insights into Parkinson’s disease. More recently related to the pandemic, the UK National Health Service (NHS) has used COVID-19 online chat box systems in order to reduce unnecessary use of health services, which are already struggling to meet the needs of an aging population. The pandemic has highlighted our inability to scale up human labour fast enough to meet the demands on our resources. AI applications may therefore be able to help in this regard with meeting sustained demand for healthcare.

Big Tech have learnt from their mistakes

In the past many tech companies invested heavily in the area of AI and digital healthcare, but sometimes experienced a mismatch between the research and the practical use of the technology, an example of this being one-off applications which focus on using imaging recognition in radiology. These new applications do not fit easily into the way that doctors practice nor do they integrate well into medical systems. Big Tech have learnt of not overpromising and under-delivering from the example of IBM, who attempted to use their Watson question-and-answer systems to cure cancer. IBM were unable to combine their algorithms with individual patient records to make useful recommendations to doctors. Big Tech seem to have learnt from these failures and what many count as a new found humility for the industry. Companies now have chief medical officers, teams of physicians and clinicians, realising that they must do something different.


Pandemic and mental health

One of the side effects of the pandemic has been the impact on the already fragile state of mental health, especially amongst young people. Months of restrictions on our lives and several lockdowns have led to increases in mental ill health. This is an area where healthcare digitalisation, primarily through apps, and the tech-savvy youth generation could meet. Digital tools are easier to scale up than physical services, meaning a wider audience can be reached than is possible through traditional mediums. Emerging technologies in this area include chat boxes, social media and cognitive behavioural therapy, which aid in identifying and preventing conditions such as depression and anxiety. In the future being able to connect these users with healthcare authorities could provide faster diagnosis and assistance if needed.

Solactive Artificial Intelligence Index includes companies such as Apple, Microsoft, Alphabet and Amazon, which are all making developments in the AI and healthcare industries. Google set its sights on the healthcare industry more than a decade ago, when the potential in the industry was initially being explored. Ten years ago, we lived in a very different world where healthcare notes were handwritten, Apple was releasing their 4th iPhone and there were certainly no healthcare apps on the market. The spread of digitalisation has meant that the possibilities of digital healthcare are greater. Apple has recently collected data from their watch wearers for an ambitious study in the area of “wearable technology”, tracking irregularities across large populations in real time, giving valuable insights from large amounts of data. Microsoft has through the cloud platform Azure taken on projects in the healthcare area, including one with a pharmaceutical group. Amazon launched their online delivery service, Amazon Pharmacy, in November 2020 in the US, aiming to tap into the US market by providing medication that is 80% cheaper than prescription drugs.

For investors who are convinced that Artificial Intelligence is likely to become an even more important part of our daily lives, a participation certificate on the Solactive Artificial Intelligence Index could be an interesting investment opportunity. The technology is evolving but it has the power to fundamentally change many sector and the economy. Positioning yourself early enough and entering when the trend could pick up could pay off for investors.

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