There was once a time when human ailments were believed to be due to an imbalance of the four humours, or vital bodily fluids, namely blood, yellow bile, phlegm, and black bile.

This system of medicine, usually credited to Hippocrates (460 BC-370 BC), was prevalent in ancient Egypt and Greece though the concept dates back much before 500 BC. Ayurveda, India’s traditional system of medicine, had developed a theory based on three humours before this.

Curing any ailment required restoring balance among the humours. For this, practitioners prescribed remedies such as potions made from herbs, diets, and bloodletting using leeches.

Today, thanks to advancements in technology and modern science, we know that human beings are complex organisms made up of trillions of cells of various shapes for various purposes. Far from the simplistic view of human ailments as the imbalance of just four humours, futuristic healthcare is targeting diseases at the cellular level. Think of it, there are approximately 37.2 trillion cells in the average human body.

As of early 20th century, even with some form of modern medicine structure in place, the global average life expectancy was 34 years. Today, healthcare has come a long way, for life expectancy has doubled. And technology is at the heart of it.

This has brought about a shift in the approach to treating patients. Now, they are looked at as heterogeneous, which was not the case once. No longer is 37°C the one precise normal human body temperature but it could range from 36.1°C to 37.2°C. Heart rate is no longer exactly 72 beats per minute. The new normal is 60-100 beats per minute.

This shift has implications. We now know the reasons behind medical conditions to be complex and that there are diverse ways to tackle them.

What has, however, still not shifted is the focus of healthcare from clinical specialty orientation to a more holistic assessment of lifetime care needs. This requires patient interactions also to shift from episodic (such as accident, joint replacement, heart surgery, etc.) to longitudinal interactions, which will help in early detection and remedy. This will lead to improved outcomes, quality of care, and patient satisfaction.

AI as an aid

Doctors call what they do ‘practice’. It is not strange. As students of science engaged in a profession universally acknowledged as noble, doctors value the progressive realisation of the goal of saving human lives as a success.

The brief story of the evolution of healthcare tells us that human intelligence is in need of augmentation yet again. And artificial intelligence (AI) could help by connecting the dots.

Artificial intelligence is predicted to have a tectonic impact on many walks of life. Healthcare is no exception. And the best doctors value anything that aids their practice.

AI is being used already across several operations by healthcare professionals. This includes clinical decision support, population health, disease management, re-admissions, medical costs/health plan, patient safety and quality, supply chain management and cancer care.

AI offers epoch-making impact in healthcare through a range of solutions—online consultation, automating repetitive tasks, medication management, designing treatment plans, drug creation and data mining of medical records—to name a few.

With further advancement in technology, AI is expected to help detect the onset of a stroke so that preventive care can begin early, saving time and brain cells of the patient; diagnose skin cancer more precisely than dermatologists; diagnose heart disease through the interpretation of echocardiograms and eye diseases such as glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, and age-related macular degeneration.

The brutal cycle broken

In an age of hyper-personalisation, everything is moving towards the idea of one. Individualised chronic care combined with AI can lead to supreme outcomes. AI and machine learning can help break the vicious cycle of ‘chronic-to-acute-to-catastrophic’ through proactive risk and onset prediction, and mitigation with timely intervention.

Futuristic healthcare companies specialise in providing solutions that leverage this understanding to drive value in disease prevention and healthcare delivery through improving identification, prediction and risk stratification of patients, thereby delivering personalised care and better outcomes.

By 2030, nearly one in every two Americans is expected to have some form of chronic disease.

And this is where the role of AI starts becoming larger than life, literally.

Piyush Sharma, executive-in-residence at ISB and at UCLA, is a global CEO coach and a C-Suite + Start-up advisor.

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