November 7, 2019
by India Bottomley, Aedit 7 November 2019
We may not be at the point where you overhear your surgeon saying, “Hey, Google, pass the scalpel,” but artificial intelligence (AI) is gradually making its way into the healthcare industry and, by extension, dermatology and plastic surgery practices, too. Even in its limited use, AI is already helping providers offer their patients better care — whether it’s pre-op, in the OR, or during the recovery process. Here are three ways artificial intelligence is shaking up medicine.
1. AI patient care
Your experience with a medical practice starts as soon as you look for information online. You might have questions for the practitioner or want to book an appointment. In the past, you would have emailed or called the practice, but you may now find yourself speaking to an AI assistant on the practice’s website. Going forward, the carefully programmed software could even help patients with aftercare following surgery.
New York city-based board certified plastic surgeon, Philip Miller, MD, who is an expert in rhinoplasty, is at the forefront of the integration of AI in aesthetic practices. Dr. Miller developed an AI Chatbot called Aestheti.Bot that can instantly answer common patient questions. While his interface works by having patients text it directly, other chatbots are available via Facebook Messenger and can be integrated with Amazon smart speakers. While the chatbot does not replace medical advice, it does offer patients instant answers to frequently asked questions — any time, anywhere.
There are already apps driven by artificial intelligence that help patients recover from orthopedic surgery, and the technology could be adapted for cosmetic procedures and plastic surgery. Apps like myrecovery.ai allow surgeons to tailor recovery programs for their patients and track their progress as they recover, while patients glean a better understanding of how best to take care of themselves.
But AI isn’t just tackling of medical questions and care — it is also looking after patients and practitioners’ schedules. You may find that the next time you make an appointment for a procedure, an AI interface will remind you what aftercare protocol to follow when you get home and help you to schedule your follow up appointments accordingly.
2. A new kind of surgical assistant
While artificial intelligence robots may not be ready to replace nurses and physician assistants, they responsible for some basic tasks in the operating room. Dr. Miller, for one, uses a smart speaker to control the lighting and some machinery in his OR.
Surgeons are using smart speakers to set timers and keep track of information while operating. During treatment, doctors can ask the smart speaker to access medical information about a patient, which may allow them to make decisions without having to ‘break’ their sterile scrub. AI technology has also been developed to allow providers to ask for recommendations about things like implant usage based on patient data, and, while the software has not been created specifically for cosmetic procedures, it’s likely only a matter of time.
AI is also helping doctors provide more personalized care. Cleveland Clinic and IBM implemented a program that analyzes data from thousands of medical papers and other sources to create more efficient treatment plans for patients. There are also virtual nursing services that allow providers to digitally answer questions about minor concerns — without a phone call or in-office visits.
And let us not forget that as voice-to-text technology has improved, so too have the workflows in many doctors’ offices, with dictation simplifying everything from note taking to prescriptions.
3. Computer-assisted diagnosis
On the more mind-blowing end of the AI revolution, Google is developing a technology that it claims is able to diagnose skin concerns as accurately as a dermatologist.
Developers created a deep learning system and taught it to recognize 26 common skin conditions that often lead to patients consulting a dermatologist. The system analyzes photos and basic data about the user, before suggesting a list of possible diagnoses — from most to least likely. In a similar vein, Stanford University tested an AI algorithm designed to detect skin cancers. When tested against practicing dermatologists, the tech performed as well as its human counterparts.
Additionally, there has been early testing to see if a deep learning system could help identify breast cancer metastasis. MIT, meanwhile, is leading research into AI-assisted medical imaging analysis, in which algorithms could help doctors in remote areas to analyze test results without telemedicine, and there is hope that the technology will reach the point that a simple smartphone photo of a rash or cut is enough to determine the type of care a patient needs.
While we’re still a ways away from having robots greeting us at the doctor’s office and trusting computers with clinical decisions, AI is steadily making inroads in the healthcare industry. For now, look out for automated booking systems and AI-generated aftercare, but don’t be surprised in a few years' time if there’s an AI application waiting to diagnose and prescribe treatment — without a trip to the doctor’s office.