The year 2023 will probably be remembered as a turning point in the usage of artificial intelligence. We saw OpenAI's ChatGPT reaching 100 million monthly active users. From Snapchat to Microsoft tech companies joined the ChatGPT bandwagon, bringing in their personalised artificial intelligence (AI).
While AI is being projected as a technology for all, the field of healthcare is also catching up to leverage it. Here’s a look at the uses for AI and its potential to contribute to the Indian healthcare domain.
AI in Indian healthcare sector
Early disease diagnosis, drug creation, drug trials, cancer treatments, cardiovascular disease are some of the important areas where AI is being used in India. According to a report by The Hindu, AI expenditure in India increased by over 109% in 2018, making it a $665 million industry. By 2025, it is expected to reach $11.78 billion, thereby, adding $1 trillion to India’s economy by 2035.
NITI Aayog, a public think tank which works for the Indian government, has been exploring the use of AI in the early identification of diabetes and is currently working on using AI as a screening tool for eye care.
Apart from this, Qure.ai, a Mumbai-based start-up, has been aiding the civic healthcare officials of the city with its AI software in the detection of tuberculosis. “Of the 1,050 people diagnosed with TB by artificial intelligence in 2022, 35% were asymptomatic. It was helpful that they were identified before they could spread in the community,” a BMC official told Times of India.
AI is also being used to identify risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease. In 2021, Apollo Hospitals launched an AI programme to predict the risk of cardiovascular disease in its patients.
The AI programme delivers a risk score that takes into account all the contributing factors like lifestyle, physical activities as well as psychological stress and anxiety as reflected via rate of respiration, and hypertension.
Speaking to BOOM, Dr Suvrankar Datta, chief advisor of Federation of All India Medical Association, talked about the current utility of AI in India. “In India, at present AI is predominantly being used in imaging of internal organs and tissues of our body, like in CT scan and MRI (Magnetic resonance imaging)."
Lately, the pharmaceutical industry has also been leveraging AI in order to develop new drugs, Datta added. “AI is really proficient in estimating structures of molecules and proteins in real time, so it has been quite well-established in the industry,” he said.
According to a research by Indian Journal of Pharmaceutical Education and Research, many pharma companies are engaged with AI-based drug discovery approaches for treating various diseases like Parkinson’s disease diabetes, Alzheimer’s and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
Augmentation not automation
According to Dr Jatin Prajapati, president of United Doctors' Front Association, Rajasthan, AI can augment the process of decision making for healthcare professionals.
Elaborating his point, Prajapati said, “In India, we have not reached a point where we can invest heavily on AI, like the US and Canada where they have AI-based personalised treatment for patients. Our main focus should be on providing primary healthcare services across the country, in every district and village.”
Speaking to BOOM, Prajapati delved into the prospects of AI for India. According to him AI has a judicious use in under-developed regions of the country where there is a dearth of doctors.
Citing an example, he explained, “Only an ultrasound can help us determine whether an abdominal ache is caused by intestinal perforation or acidity. So, until the doctor arrives, a professional skilled in using the AI-equipped ultrasound machine can assist the patient to determine whether it's a serious issue.” This, he said, could avoid emergency situations.
Apart from this, AI can be used to maintain records of patients which will make it easier for doctors and hospitals to access a patient's medical history, Prajapati added.
Still a black box
Owing to the uncertainty associated with the recent boom in AI, it is imperative that we proceed with vigilance, especially in the healthcare sector. Recently, the World Health Organisation has also cautioned against the widespread use of AI in routine health care and medicine before measuring the “clear evidence of its benefits''.
According to Datta, at this stage AI can be used for second opinions and cannot be completely relied upon. Explaining his point, he said, “For example, we are using AI to diagnose a tumour. But we cannot perform operations based on its result as it tends to give false positive or false negative results.”
When a test result wrongly indicates that a particular condition is present, it is called false positive, whereas a false negative result wrongly indicates that a particular condition is absent.
This, according to Datta, makes the return on investment of AI in India very low. “The number of cases we see everyday in India is so high that we cannot spend additional time on AI’s second opinions.”
Another notable concern, according to Prajapati, is that of data privacy. “The results which AI provides is the function of the data it is fed with. Hence, we have to be careful that patients’ data is not being breached in any way by the hospitals,” he said.
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