Doc­tors get a vir­tual help­ing hand

China Daily European Weekly - - Front Page - By HE WEI [email protected]­nadaily.com.cn

China’s med­i­cal sec­tor is ex­pected grow to the size of 1 tril­lion yuan ($145 bil­lion; 128 bil­lion eu­ros; £115 bil­lion) over the next 20 years. This growth will be fu­eled not only by an army of doc­tors and nurses, but also troves of data, ac­cord­ing to ex­perts in the field of ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence.

“When you com­bine AI with the na­tion’s tril­lion-dol­lar health­care sec­tor — es­pe­cially health­care at the smaller, lo­cal level — there are in­fi­nite pos­si­bil­i­ties,” says Xie Guo­tong, chief health­care sci­en­tist at Ping An Tech­nol­ogy.

Dim­itris Me­taxas, the chief sci­en­tist for smart health at SenseTime, an AI startup in China, points out that the key el­e­ment in the evo­lu­tion of the med­i­cal sec­tor will be learn­ing al­go­rithms, which will al­low hu­mans to gain un­prece­dented insight into di­ag­nos­tics, care pro­cesses, treat­ment vari­abil­ity and pa­tient out­comes.

“Us­ing large amounts of pa­tient data from ra­di­o­log­i­cal, pathol­ogy, bi­o­log­i­cal and other types of med­i­cal de­vices, the new AI meth­ods and tech­nolo­gies are able to pro­vide new in­sights into dis­eases, such as pre­cise quan­ti­ta­tive an­a­lyt­ics and cor­re­la­tions be­tween dif­fer­ent data modal­i­ties, that hu­mans can­not de­ter­mine,” says Me­taxas.

Dur­ing the World Ar­ti­fi­cial In­tel­li­gence Con­fer­ence in Septem­ber in Shang­hai, SenseTime un­veiled the pro­to­type of its first AI med­i­cal prod­uct, SenseCare, which pro­vides im­proved AI tools and meth­ods that

can en­hance clin­i­cal prac­tice by aug­ment­ing a doc­tor’s de­ci­sion-mak­ing abil­i­ties for both di­ag­no­sis and treat­ment.

Smart so­lu­tions such as SenseTime’s pro­to­type have been mush­room­ing across China in light of the na­tional ini­tia­tive to en­hance health ser­vices us­ing AI tech­nolo­gies. In late 2017, Chi­nese in­ter­net giant Ten­cent rolled out an AI-pow­ered di­ag­nos­tic imag­ing so­lu­tion that helps de­tect early symp­toms of var­i­ous can­cers.

Ten­cent vice-pres­i­dent Chen Guangyu says the pro­gram has scanned hun­dreds of thou­sands of gas­troscopy im­ages and has an ac­cu­racy of more than 90 per­cent when it comes to di­ag­nos­ing pre­lim­i­nary esophageal can­cer.

“By ac­cu­mu­lat­ing mas­sive troves of data, the anal­y­sis is ex­pected to be­come even more re­li­able … and this would in turn as­sist younger doc­tors,” says Chen.

Tech giant Mi­crosoft is also flex­ing its mus­cles in this field. Its ma­chine learn­ing plat­form has been used in col­lab­o­ra­tions with part­ner firms such as US phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal giant Eli Lilly and Co and Chi­nese im­age cog­ni­tion startup Air­doc to de­velop a sys­tem that can de­ter­mine if some­one is suf­fer­ing from di­a­betes through a retina scan.

Over at Royal Philips China, the com­pany has di­ag­nos­tic imag­ing so­lu­tions that help de­tect early symp­toms of cer­tain dis­eases in the lungs, breasts and other ar­eas. Ac­cord­ing to Royal Philips China CEO Andy Ho, the com­pany spends 1.7 bil­lion eu­ros ($1.92 bil­lion; £1.5 bil­lion) every year, about 10 per­cent of its global rev­enue, on re­search and de­vel­op­ment, 60 per­cent of which is fo­cused on soft­ware and AI-re­lated mat­ters.

“The Healthy China 2030 na­tional strat­egy is a grand vi­sion to bol­ster de­vel­op­ment in key health­care do­mains and im­prove peo­ple’s qual­ity of life,” Ho says. “AI-based so­lu­tions have great po­ten­tial to im­prove pa­tient out­comes and care ef­fi­ciency.”

Jayashree Kal­pa­thy-Cramer, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of Ra­di­ol­ogy at Har­vard Med­i­cal School, says that AI can also mit­i­gate the im­pact of man­power short­ages by per­form­ing di­ag­nos­tic du­ties typ­i­cally done by hu­mans. This would be es­pe­cially use­ful in China where med­i­cal re­sources are lack­ing in ru­ral ar­eas.

For ex­am­ple, AI imag­ing tools can screen chest X-rays for signs of tu­ber­cu­lo­sis, of­ten achiev­ing a level of ac­cu­racy com­pa­ra­ble to hu­mans. This ca­pa­bil­ity could be made avail­able through an app that med­i­cal care providers in low-re­source ar­eas can ac­cess, re­duc­ing the need for a trained di­ag­nos­tic ra­di­ol­o­gist on site.

Di­ag­nos­tics aside, AI has al­ready been used in other ar­eas of the med­i­cal field to boost the ef­fi­ciency of rou­tine tasks such as doc­u­men­ta­tion, which in turn al­lows doc­tors and nurses to spend more time on im­por­tant tasks.

In a joint re­search pro­gram with Zhong­shan Hospi­tal in Shang­hai, Royal Philips uses nat­u­ral lan­guage pro­cess­ing to halve the time needed to read hand­writ­ten med­i­cal records and di­ag­nos­tic charts. Ho notes that doc­tors can ex­pand their con­tex­tual un­der­stand­ing of a pa­tient’s his­tory, thus im­prov­ing per­son­al­ized ther­apy, by ex­tract­ing in­sights from data.

Mean­while, voice recog­ni­tion and dic­ta­tion tech­nol­ogy have also helped im­prove the clin­i­cal doc­u­men­ta­tion process. By work­ing with more than 100 hos­pi­tals na­tion­wide, Chi­nese voice recog­ni­tion firm iF­lytek en­hances work­flow pro­cesses by al­low­ing doc­tors to record their di­ag­no­sis us­ing voice, which is then turned into text in real time, says Xie Jie, a mar­ket­ing man­ager at iF­lytek.

“There is no longer the need to read hand­writ­ten notes or pre­scrip­tions. To­day, doc­tors can sim­ply dic­tate in­for­ma­tion. The Chi­nese speech-to-text trans­la­tion has an ac­cu­racy of more than 97 per­cent,” he says.

The con­tin­u­ous im­prove­ment of AI can also im­prove cur­rent per­son­al­ized treat­ment op­tions for pa­tients, says Me­taxas. For ex­am­ple, in or­tho­pe­dics, 3D print­ing tech­nol­ogy is used to cre­ate new body parts for pa­tients who might need to un­dergo pro­ce­dures such as com­plete joint re­place­ment. The use of AI, Me­taxas ex­plaines, can im­prove the pre­ci­sion of 3D print­ing and en­sure that pa­tients get an ar­ti­fi­cial joint that is as per­fect a fit as pos­si­ble.

“Such per­son­al­ized treat­ments are no less im­por­tant than di­ag­no­sis, and we’re putting more ef­forts into this area,” he adds.

LUO XIAOGUANG / XINHUA

Re­me­bot, a nav­i­ga­tion and ori­en­ta­tion ro­bot for neu­ro­surgery.

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