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AI in healthcare: What comes next, and further down the line?

We are already seeing AI’s impact in the sector.

AI in healthcare: What comes next, and further down the line?
[metamorworks / Adobe Stock]

As in so many other industries, artificial intelligence (AI) represents the next step in eldercare. Whether through chatbots or care bots (i.e., companion robots), wearables or virtual assistants, AI is capable not only of collecting actionable data on seniors, but also interpreting it and predicting the best course in the care journey. As a result, workflows and outcomes are improved.

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We are already seeing AI’s impact in the sector. Consider the California woman who was concerned about the unpredictability of her 81-year-old father, who was diagnosed with severe dementia but lived with her at home. She had AI-linked sensors installed so she could track his movements and ensure his safety.

And consider the tale of the 92-year-old woman who lives with only her robotic cat in her home in a rural part of New York State. The cat keeps her company, which has been especially important during the pandemic, given the adverse impact social isolation often has on seniors. The piece goes on to say that some 20,000 companion robots have been distributed to those 65 and over, across 21 states, and that AI is enabling more and more of them to be increasingly conversational.

As great as AI’s impact has been to date, it will only become that much greater in the years ahead, and necessarily so. It is estimated that some 10,000 Baby Boomers turn 65 every day, and while 14.5% of the U.S. population is that age or older at present, that is expected to rise to 20% by 2030—and continue rising. By 2060, there are expected to be 95 million American seniors, nearly twice as many as in 2018.

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It’s important to note that 80% of those 65 and older suffer from at least one chronic condition, and 68% suffer from two or more. When you factor in the expected shortage of between 40,800 and 104,900 doctors by 2030, the scope of the problem becomes clear: There will be fewer doctors to care for an aging population. Help will be needed, whether the senior elects to age in place or is a resident in a facility of some sort. And AI can help provide it.

It is expected, in fact, that in the near future, AI will make possible augmented telehealth and personalized medicine, and that further down the line, AI will be able to aggregate data from various sources, thus giving clinicians greater insight into any given patient’s needs.

In all, the AI healthcare market is expected to mushroom from $6.1 billion in 2021 to $39.5 billion in 2026, a staggering compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 45.3%. A recent example of the manner in which the market is trending came when GE Healthcare announced in July 2020 it was expanding its partnership with the medical AI startup Lunit, enabling GE to enhance its analysis of medical images through the use of AI algorithms.

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AI’s impact can be felt well beyond the diagnostic phase of the care journey, however. It can be used to analyze the health data gleaned from wearables, and as mentioned, motion sensors, cameras, wearables and a technology known as lidar—i.e., a laser that scans a given space—are all valuable tools in tracking seniors’ movements. This was crucial not only in the aforementioned case of the California woman and her dad, but also in an instance where a man placed sensors on his parents’ pillboxes, bathroom door and various spots in their kitchen to track their movements.

But the wider application is in detecting when seniors fall, as such incidents are the leading cause of injury-related death among those 65 and over. One California facility estimates it has reduced hospital trips resulting from falls by 80% through the use of an AI-based application that enables paramedics to review the extent of any given fall and shows staff where conditions might be improved to prevent further occurrences.

In all it has been estimated that 80% of physicians’ current tasks could one day be consigned to technology, with AI—like that which is used in virtual assistants—being particularly well-suited for time-consuming processes like data entry and analysis. That’s critical, considering such administrative tasks are a leading cause of burnout among clinicians.

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Chatbots can likewise reduce customer service time, and care bots can at least minimize social isolation (though experts believe they are best used to supplement human interaction). Besides the earlier example, the New Yorker cited an AI-enhanced robot called ElliQ, which, in addition to greeting its owner, also provided information and reminders about living a healthy lifestyle.

Further developments are much-needed given the challenges that lie ahead. We are growing ever older as a society, and there are expected to be fewer and fewer doctors around to care for those 65 and older. AI can bridge the gap. Indeed, it must.


Joel Landau is the Chairman and Founder of The Allure Group, a New York-based healthcare group of skilled nursing and rehab facilities

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