The Covid-19 pandemic has brought unprecedented challenges to the healthcare systems. Not just healthcare; in fact, the whole world came to a standstill. However, technology has played a crucial role in addressing some of the critical issues. The Covid-19 has accelerated the digital transformation and technological adoption pace. Whether it is remote working or telehealth adoption, technology plays a crucial role in almost every facet of life and provides much-needed stimulus to economic activities. 

Among all the growing technological applications such as big data, the Internet of Things (IoT), and many others, AI draws significant attention from healthcare professionals, scientists, and clinicians. Artificial intelligence (AI) today holds the potential to address the challenges that require very predictive analysis and help in decision-making. From personalized shopping to self-driving cars, from fraud detection to robotic surgeries, AI today encompasses huge potential and shapes human beings’ lives through valuable services. 

Artificial intelligence (AI) can perform human-like cognitive functions and is applicable in various healthcare fields such as diagnosis, treatment, drug development, patient engagement, and many others. During the Covid-19, the researcher analyzed multiple aspects of AI such as contact tracing, diagnosing diseases, analyzing the risk factor of Covid-19, to an extent in the development of vaccines, and many other administrative strategies. 

What are the applications of Artificial intelligence (AI) in healthcare, in particular, to pandemic-like situations?

Communication – Among all the different AI applications, chatbots are one of the most remarkable and noteworthy tools. The AI-based chatbot can carry out effective conversations with the user and provide them valuable information regarding the symptoms, testing, and diagnostics. They can smoothen the patients’ journey and, at the same time, can decrease the workload of the healthcare professionals. Forksy, WebMD, Safedrugbot, Ada Health, Babylon Health are leading AI-based healthcare chatbots. 

In the fight against Covid-19, the chatbots have provided round-the-clock service with features like symptoms screening, promoting preventive measures and guidelines, and with an option to connect with an expert clinician and many others. 

Contact tracing – Infectious diseases are challenging to trace and contain. In Covid-19, it became too challenging for the health authorities to trace the spread of coronavirus. However, AI can play a key role in surveillance, contact tracing, and identify the cluster. 

In 2019, during the initial days of Covid-19,  the AI‐automated HealthMap system at Boston Children’s Hospital and the Canadian-based AI model, Blue Dot, identified its emerging risk and alerted about its spread. Based on various social media posts, online news articles, reports by government agencies and health organizations, AI can provide valuable insights on future infectious disease outbreaks. However, the real-time infectious disease alerts and contact tracing via smartphone in recent times raised some serious privacy issues. 

Preliminary screening and diagnosis – Based on the patient’s medical history, risk factors, and current symptoms, the AI carries out the primary diagnosis and screening. Computer-aided medical image analysis can classify pathologies faster than humans, and that too with very high accuracy. Similarly, AI can make the vast medical data easy to understand for the doctor and physicians. 

Jvion (an AI company) is one of the most leading companies in disease screening and diagnosis. Jvion has developed a new application that can identify populations at higher risk for severe illness. To identify people at higher risk for severe illness, Jvion carries out clinical, socioeconomic, environmental, and behavioral analyses to hide health risks. 

Vaccine Development – Vaccine development requires the comprehensive study of the drug delivery design and the pathogen (virus/protein structure). It takes a significant amount of time and also proved to be an expensive process. With the help of AI, both issues can be addressed. Not just for the infectious disease outbreak but also for the rare disease, AI can make drug discovery faster. 

BenevolentAI, Exscientia, Deargen, Innoplexus, Healx, Gero, VantAI, Evaxion Biotech, Genome Biologics are some of the companies working on AI technology to discover drugs for a variety of diseases and conditions. These companies have collaborated with pharma giants to co-develop new medicines. 

The AI during the past year gets much-hyped attention for Covid-19 vaccine development. Companies such as Healxl, Evaxion Biotech, Exscientia, Iktos (and SRI international) had announced the use of AI to identify potential vaccines. Today, the AI is for limited use; in the coming year, the scope is expected to get much broader. 

Administrative Assistants – The AI can enhance the operational efficiency of the hospitals. The deployment of AI in appointment booking, payment, inquiries, reminders, dealing with no-shows, and many other such places can save valuable time and cost. Along with this routine work, it can also provide round-the-clock service. 

Apart from these, continuous health monitoring, analyzing the treatment progress, side effects, or potential adverse reactions of vaccination are other uses of AI. In the coming month, AI can bring insightful information about the Covid-19 vaccine impact on the general population.

What is the benefit of Artificial intelligence (AI) in healthcare and allied domains? 

Today, most Artificial intelligence (AI) applications are in the development phase; however, with time it is expected to improve and provide benefit to the healthcare sector such as – 

  • Delivering better and faster services.
  • Reducing unnecessary workload from the healthcare professionals.
  • Ensuring healthcare accessibility to almost every section of society.
  • Identify the early risk of disease and also the potential to assess the outbreak of disease.

What are the risks and challenges in the implementation of Artificial intelligence (AI) in the healthcare system?

  • Privacy and the security of the data are critical issues with AI. The AI relies on vast amounts of data, and any data breach may bring distrust and panic among the general population. 
  • The sample size, geography, missing data, validation models, and data accuracy play a vital role in the decision-making process. The inaccurate or missing data may affect the outcome. Similarly, one region’s data applicability may not be well suited for other regions’ populations. 
  • The implementation of Artificial intelligence (AI) in emergency settings can be very risky. Human intervention is necessary; almost every stage requires some form of a human assistant.
  • Issues such as data protection, quality of the service provided, the clinical practice adopted by healthcare providers, potential hazards (or clinical safety), clinicians, and patients relations are some of the regulatory issues that may arise from time to time and need to be addressed. 

Future of AI in Healthcare 

As the technology gets better in the coming years, Artificial intelligence (AI) applications’ scope is expected to grow significantly. As of today, the application and adaptability are continuously improving and expanding to the new segments. It is likely to contribute to the country’s economy, with healthcare being the largest beneficiary. The ultimate aim of Artificial intelligence (AI) is to streamline the healthcare delivery process. The healthcare sector involves human life; whatever progress the AI makes, the ultimate decision will be made by humans.