For some, Artificial Intelligence (AI), paints a Hollywood picture of robotic humans that are controlled by and dependent on a range of implantable and wearable technology. Or, of malicious AI taking over and controlling humans. Whatever the case, AI has always had the appeal of a futuristic spectacle; fascinating but not likely to take place in our lifetimes. That image is about to change, particularly in the healthcare industry.
The healthcare industry is going through a number of transformative changes, especially as scientists look for better ways to diagnose and cure diseases. Advances in science, software, and especially in AI are creating pathways to a new, exciting future for healthcare and healthy living. From diagnostics to treatments, on-going care and cures, AI is bringing about many new medical technologies that will drastically improve human health and may change the way you interact with your healthcare providers.
AI is not new to healthcare. In fact, doctors today can use software that will both diagnose certain health problems and also make recommendations for treatments. Modernizing Medicine, an iPad-based electronic medical assistant, is one example of such technology already on the market. It takes a doctor’s input about a patient, mines a vast amount of data, then delivers recommendations on how to treat or cure the patient. Though still in the early stages of its potential, work is underway to eventually enable this software to run custom diagnostics for preventative care based on a patient’s genomic characteristics, demographics, history, lifestyle and more.
The increase in AI for healthcare will also change the doctor-patient relationship. For example, today most testing is done in a doctor’s office. Soon, however, technology will make it possible for individuals to have tests done in their own home with the help of AI. Doctors will still be involved, but care will become more specialized. Primary care physicians will no longer need to provide referrals as the home testing technology will make specialist recommendations based on results.
Here’s a look at just some of what’s coming. Let’s say you start experiencing severe shortness of breath, tightness in your chest and tingling in your right arm. Your personal AI agent detects your symptoms, alerts you to “get to the emergency room now” and provides the address on your GPS. By the time you arrive at the ER, your AI agent has shared your medical history and real time vital signs with the doctor. The doctor then takes over, but if you need surgery, most likely it will be completed by a robot. Once you leave the ER, your AI agent makes sure that you take your meds, eat well and exercise regularly to maintain your health. I predict that in 5 years, this scenario will be commonplace – that we will all have our own AI agent that we can interact with 24/7 for continual healthcare needs – including monitoring, preventative care, and treatments/cures for any health problem.
Parallel to software advancements, sensor technology is making even more radical innovations possible. Sensors in wearables and attachables are an increasingly normal part of daily life. Implantables are the next big wave and will come in the form of sensor technology implanted right underneath the skin or deep inside the brain.
Initially, implantables will be used to treat specific diseases and physiological conditions, but eventually capabilities will expand to include increasing human performance –enabling faster thinking, learning, movement, even memory enhancement.
Some of the neatest, sensor-focused healthcare companies today include: Valencell, which leverages biometric sensor technology to provides clinical-grade information about a person’s activity;Endotronix Wireless Health Monitoring, which develops advanced biosensors, telehealth technology, and provides business and clinical services to patients who suffer from congestive heart failure; and Proteus Digital Health, which makes an ingestible sensor to monitor a patient’s prescription compliance.
AI and sensors hold a lot of potential, especially for startups. Investors, including many tier one venture capitalists, are eager to fund the next generation of AI products and services. Vinod Kholsa, founder of Khosla Ventures, is leading the healthcare revolution by investing in innovative startups, such as Atomwise. This company develops artificial intelligence systems for drug discovery. He also invested in AliveCor, which developed a device and app that turns any smartphone into a clinical-quality electrocardiogram (ECG) recorder, enabling users to take control of their heart health.
Other tier one VCs aggressively investing in AI and sensor-focused healthcare startups include, Andreesen Horowitz (funding startups including Benchling, and Omada Health) and Norwest Venture Partners (backing iCardiac Technologies, iRhythm, Health Catalyst, Telcare and more). Of course, VCs like Google Ventures,Sequoia, Kleiner Perkins, and NEA are also actively investing in the space.
Though it’s easy to assume consumer fears might be a roadblock to the advancement and acceptance of AI, the single biggest barrier is FDA regulation. The FDA process simply does not work for startups; it is time consuming, expensive and cumbersome. The process is designed for big pharmaceutical companies, like Pfizer and Merck, not for quick moving startups. In order to keep up with technology, the FDA needs to come up with new innovative solutions to allow rapid testing and approval so they can be available to the markets faster.
Even with FDA hurdles to clear, entrepreneurs are eager to create solutions and investors are ready to fund promising ideas. When it comes to solving for healthcare challenges, no idea is a bad idea. So get your product and your pitch ready, raise tier one venture capital, and you could be part of this new world of healthcare.