Alexa, how will artificial intelligence change the health care industry?

If Alexa, Amazon’s virtual, voice-activated assistant, were capable of delivering complex answers, she’d probably launch into a long-winded answer that starts with her new skill of being able to dispense medical information about first aid. But since Alexa is (currently) only proficient in short, straight and fact-oriented answers, allow me to explore the topic.

A few weeks ago, client Mayo Clinic announced it had developed a new “skill” for Alexa that offers basic first aid advice directly from the Minnesota-based hospital. Users will have to enable the free Mayo Clinic First Aid program before they inquire about topics such as “tell me about spider bites” or “how do you treat a cut?”

Mayo makes it clear that the new feature should not be used in medical emergencies and stresses it is for “information purposes only” for “dozens of everyday mishaps and other situations.” Still, having a first-aid Alexa to accompany a family first-aid kit is an exciting step into the vast potential of AI.

Having a first-aid Alexa to accompany a family first-aid kit is an exciting step into the vast potential of AIClick To Tweet

This announcement, along with reports of the first oral surgery performed by a robot, had me wondering how health care brands are embracing artificial intelligence. Upon my search, I discovered a plethora of companies that are investing in this emerging technology. Here are some that changed my perception of AI.

Google DeepMind Health

Would you trust a computer to analyze and interpret your test results? Google thinks so, which is why they acquired DeepMind Health in 2014. This AI system is designed to scour thousands of medical test results in minutes and provide a speedy initial diagnostic assessment.

This system has the potential to improve access to care by equipping hospitals with AI that can provide “world-class” diagnostic support and provide more consistent care across the nation. It would also increase the speed of care by helping physicians get their patients from test to treatment faster.

3Scan

This San Francisco startup uses a patented “Knife Edge Scanning Microscope (KESM) to bring together elements of automated serial sectioning, micromachining and advanced optics.” In laymen terms this means they use robotic microscopes and machine vision to generate better views of tissues. Videos showing this 3-D imaging are mesmerizing.

This technology helps labs and researchers obtain tissue analyses in a much more efficient manner. 3Scan’s machine can develop a tissue sample analysis in just one day compared to a year when using traditional methods.

Atomwise

In an attempt to reduce the costs of medicine development, Atomwise uses supercomputers and a database of molecular structures to predict which potential medicines may or may not work. In 2015, the company used the AI technology to discover two drugs that have the potential to significantly reduce Ebola infectivity.

By preparing a virtual model of the “claw” that Ebola uses to enter cells, Atomwise was able to evaluate how 7,000 existing drugs interacted with this “claw.” While this analysis would typically take months or years to perform, Atomwise completed it in less than one day. This advancement is paving the way for more efficient and less expensive drug creation.

In retrospect, perhaps Alexa could answer the question, “how will artificial intelligence change the health care industry?” with a short and straight answer. Her answer, with that robotic-female voice, would likely be, “Artificial intelligence is propelling health care into the future.”