The AI ward

Faster Networks are embedded in the story of AI and how it effects industries on the whole. It was only last month that Faster Networks wrote about how AI language models and AI video manipulation have destabilised Hollywood studios that have consistently disregarded and minimised the work and talent of the creative class. 

One topic we have not addressed is the ways in which AI is changing the landscape of medicine. The first medical speciality to really embrace AI technology is radiology and that is due to it already operating as a largely digital field. Think of all the existing data available via MRI, CT, x-ray and ultrasound images that could be used as input to train AI algorithms. The agile use of AI  to detect an embolism or prioritise patients at risk and triage accordingly is progress in medicine. Think of how AI software can be used to clean up images and therefore be used as a preferred diagnostic tool to the human eye. There is a whole journal publication, Radiology: Artificial Intelligence devoted unanimously to this topic. 

Beyond radiology there are other areas of specialty that are using AI to improve medical practice; training, clinical practice and healthcare equity. Recently The Good People podcast published an interview by Andy Fithall with a gastrointestinal surgeon, Dr Matthew Read – Putting AI Technology Under the Knife. 

Dr Read talks about his work experience since becoming a surgeon and how this has influenced his practice. He has done research in The Netherlands and Kenya and gave a example of healthcare in Kenya that paints a grim picture of healthcare. They have approximately one surgeon per 15 million people and have a higher rate of fatal disease at younger ages. There is very little access to the care required for the population.  

Historically surgeons have learned the craft in a ‘see one, do one, teach one model’ according to Dr Read. He believes this has limitations, particularly in surgery, because you are operating on a living person and it would be beneficial to create tools that allow for better training and the inevitable mistakes and mishaps that come with that, like a flight simulator for pilots. 

Where there are gaps in training, learning and accreditation there is a place for new technologies. Dr Read was invited to train surgeons in Kenya to help increase healthcare options and there was a reciprocal exchange for a Kenyan surgeon to come to Melbourne for further training. Part of the training is building best practice units through skill development,research and support that will ultimately deliver better health outcomes in the future. 

In the near future, there will be the capacity to use technology to guide doctors in real time, through a complex surgery. Where a trained surgeon with expertise will sit anywhere in the world and annotate pathways for another surgeon performing an operation, in real time, using a headset with a head up display.

The real time capabilities come from access to the high-speed broadband satellite Starlink network, by Space X. Accessibility to the network has been generously donated to further this research. Part of the requirement of the research is maintaining strong ethical principles for privacy to secure patient data. Networks need to be technically challenged because they are critical infrastructure that can cause connections to fail or glitch. Space X has been known to employ hackers for testing purposes. 

As AI technology is manipulated for the greater good we can maintain a healthy scepticism while opening our minds to the possibilities of making the world fairer and more equitable through health systems, at speed and scale.