Artificial Intelligence (AI) will spur technological upgrades in the healthcare sector and transform the way doctors diagnose and treat patients. AI will not only get better devices, better diagnostics, and better drugs but also better access, and better equity says Dr. Anurag Mairal, an Adjunct Professor of Medicine and the Director of Global Outreach Programs at Stanford Byers Center for Biodesign, Stanford University.
Mairal, who also is chairman of Entrepreneurs and Professionals in Partnership for Innovation in Healthcare (EPPIC), hosted an annual conference EPPICON 2023. He spoke to Indica about the impact of Artificial Intelligence (AI) on healthcare, its future and regulations.
Held on September 9 in Foster City, California, with a theme “Will Artificial Intelligence enable better patient health outcomes, equity, and access?” and bought in attendees from various US states.
Mairal told indica that the goal of the event was to bring some phenomenal minds together. Scientists, engineers, innovators, entrepreneurs, students, policymakers. The idea was to have them all start thinking about how can we leverage AI to not only get better devices, better diagnostics, and better drugs but also better access, and better equity. It can’t be an afterthought.
“It has to be part and parcel of thinking about that innovation. Innovations must not only get better results, but they should get better results for more people in a more accessible way. That’s the goal,” said Mairal, speaking about the EPPIC conference held on September 9 in Foster City, California. He is the Chairman of Entrepreneurs and Professionals in Partnership for Innovation in Healthcare (EPPIC).
Mairal said that the event marked the start of a conversation regarding AI and healthcare. “We will have a series of white papers coming out of this. These white papers will help further this conversation.”
“Artificial intelligence has been around for decades, but machine learning is a new element of it. There are a lot of new developments in AI. It is new from that perspective that the new innovations must also make a greater impact on people who don’t usually get access to healthcare. People in poor, rural areas. People who are in areas where
they don’t get meaningful access to care. For instance, the global south which includes India too,” he added.
EPPIC is also engaging with policymakers to focus on regulations needed for the safe implementation of AI. During the conference three Congressmen Ro Khanna, Dr. Rich McCormick, who is a decorated veteran and Emergency Room physician and Shri Thanedar asked attendees to share their input that help shape the AI regulation.
Mairal said, “EPPIC Global has a responsibility to start these conversations. And that’s why we are doing it. We are channelling these ideas, these conversations. AI is going to shape the industry. It has the potential to do wonderful things for patients, but it also has the potential for risk. The policymakers want to make sure that they provide guardrails to all the innovations that come out. So that it doesn’t harm patients or doesn’t harm the people in any way.”
However, Mairal also cautioned, “We do need regulation, but you don’t want to over-regulate” so that AI innovations can achieve the desired dimensions and impact that would help people across the globe.
“AI is already playing a role in health. It’s going to play an even bigger role and it’s not going to be visible to us. As a patient, you won’t know your doctor is using AI. It’ll do its function inconspicuously. Just as when you drive a car, the engine is inside the hood, we don’t see the engine.”
He added, “We are agnostic to the technology modality that solves the problem. We’d rather focus on understanding what patients need, what doctors need. What does the healthcare system need? Design methodology is about finding requirements, defining them, and then strategizing the solution deployment with the help of devices, diagnostics, digital health, AI, and pharma. A number of our fellows at Stanford are working on AI-based solutions.”
Mairal said one of the fellows came up with an AI-enabled stroke detection system with sensors that collect data from the patient’s brain. “The device is wearable,” he said.
“The data collected through the sensors gets analyzed using AI to predict or identify a stroke. In this manner, we enhanced our ability to detect stroke. Because once you have a stroke and you don’t get the treatment right away, it has pretty bad outcomes. So, this device actually can save lives. It can save a lot of disability. Treatments for stroke exist but those treatments cannot be effective if you bring patients too late. AI has become a very important piece of stroke diagnosis,” Mairal said.
He said doctors will have to learn tech. “Cross-disciplinary skills are going to be critical for doctors in the near future. They are not going to be replaced, neither are they going to be avoided. Doctors who don’t know AI will be replaced by doctors who know AI and technology,” he said.
One area where AI has really added value is radiology. “I think the radiology department has benefitted immensely from AI. Scans can be read so much better by AI than by human beings. AI does a very good job of eliminating a lot of biases that exist when humans are reading. It does a pretty good job.”
On whether Stanford Byers Center for Biodesign has any projects planned outside the US, Mairal said: “Stanford Biodesign is partnering with governments in some states and bringing health technology, and innovation to bolster public health services which serve the underserved in India. We have a partnership going on and we will make some important announcements in the future. Most of the companies in India are known for generic medicine but most of the individual medicines are manufactured here.”
“The Indian government is actually focusing a lot on digitizing health care. So, digital health care is becoming big in the country. There is an Ayushman Bharat digital mission of the government and that’s going to make healthcare digital and collect a lot of data that will be used
to make critical decisions. From the digital health perspective, healthcare in India will evolve phenomenally in the next five to ten years. It’s going to be a huge industry by itself just like what has happened with UPI and digital payments. My suspicion is that healthcare professionals in the US will learn quite a bit from India during the next ten years. The evolution will help in research like AI
training, and development of AI models.”