How artificial intelligence is transforming the healthcare industry

What you need to know to keep up

In an era when software can detect tumours far more cheaply – and faster – than radiologists or oncologists, it’s clear automation in general and artificial intelligence (AI) in particular is set to transform how healthcare is delivered and consumed. Mahesh Roy, National Segment Head of Healthcare at Macquarie Business Banking, explains what that means for those in the industry.

AI will be your servant, not your master

While it’s impossible to accurately predict what the situation will be in the longer term, most experts agree that for the short to medium term, humans will be working with machines rather than being displaced by them. Roy believes even if full automation becomes possible in the future, healthcare will be one of the last industries where it will be embraced.

“Diagnostic imaging technology exists right now that will identify tumours earlier and more accurately than any human can, then trawl through masses of data to determine what treatment plan is statistically most likely to be effective,” Roy says.

“But I don’t imagine even the most tech-dependent Millennial would be comfortable having a chatbot delivering the news they have cancer.” It’s at times like these that the human connection, as well as medical experience, really counts.

Consumers still want the human touch

What’s happened in other industries suggests the automation of routine tasks makes the human interaction aspect of a business even more important. Despite being able to book their flights and accommodation online, plenty of people still go to travel agents to be reassured about their holiday choices. It’s reasonable to assume that people dealing with a health issue and feeling confused, anxious or dispirited will still want to talk to an expert.

Roy also points out the universal nature of Australia’s healthcare system means patients won’t be as attracted to automated services.

“It makes economic sense for someone in the US who is feeling unwell to consider downloading an $8 AI-enabled app that promises to diagnose their condition rather than spending $80 to see a doctor,” he says.

“That’s not the case in this country. Undoubtedly, governments of all persuasions will continue to attempt to keep a lid on health budgets by encouraging automation,” Roy says. “There’s plenty of examples of that occurring right now, such as the Personally Controlled Electronic Health Record, aka My Health Record,” Roy says.

The automation you’re not noticing

Roy points out it’s the back-office jobs the robots have come for first.

“Think of all the tech that is, or soon will be, standard for even the smallest practices,” he says. “Practice management software, online booking and payment systems, the IT required to safely send and receive electronic health records. Those advances have introduced significant efficiencies and improved the client experience while lowering costs.”

Roy predicts that, at least for the next few years, this type of low-profile tech is going to have a more profound impact on how the average doctor or dentist runs their practice than headline-grabbing developments such as cognitive assistants or robot-enabled microsurgical procedures.

Happy patients, healthy business

While conceding AI breakthroughs are likely, over the longer term, to reduce the overall demand for healthcare professionals, Roy argues they have little reason to fear the future, pointing out automation isn’t happening in isolation.

“Factors such as the ageing population and the development of new procedures are having a countervailing effect on the demand for healthcare services,” he says. “Also, it doesn’t seem likely that healthcare businesses using AI and other technology to provide more convenient, personalised and effective care will earn less when providing ever better outcomes. That noted, there will be a shift to higher volume, lower margin business models.”

The AI whisperers

Macquarie Business Banking has assisted clients in many industries to ride waves of disruption.

Macquarie’s expert staff have also helped those in industries such as accounting, law and real estate manage automation in a way that allows them to not just survive but thrive. Whether it’s recommending and integrating with the best practice management software, enabling collaboration between start-ups and established businesses or providing innovative banking services, Macquarie has plenty to offer healthcare business owners.