Who’s afraid of AI? These days, just about everybody. AI, ChatGPT and the like are coming for our jobs and will destroy our way of life, the doomsayers tell us.
The mood is utterly different in health care, where cutting-edge physicians recognize the potential of AI to add decades to our lives and to fix the catastrophic “sick care” system, not just in the United States, but around the world.
My life expectancy – and yours – is only going up, thanks to AI. Here’s how and why.
We don’t really have a health care system. Instead, we wait for people to be practically at death’s door before we start to treat them. That’s because by the time most potentially fatal illnesses – those affecting the heart, the lungs, the brain and the digestive system – reveal themselves, they are too far gone to be healed.
As a result, we spend vast sums on hospitals, doctors, and pharmaceuticals trying to add a few more years to the lives of people with tragically advanced diseases. Treatment is often expensive, painful, and worst of all, ineffective.
By contrast, some members of society have access to “precision medicine,” a term describing the deepest possible dive into their health and wellness. They’ll spend the better part of a day going through an array of tests, including a CT scan, a brain scan, a heart ultrasound, an MRI, and extensive blood, urine, and stool work. They’ll have their entire genomes sequenced, identifying proclivities toward diseases that otherwise would be left unchecked until they were too far gone to treat.
As a result, patients learn what diseases they have a likelihood of developing, and perhaps even more important, their doctors can spot brain tumors, heart problems, lung issues, and so on, while they are still small and easily treatable.
The alternative: the tumor or malignancy grows, or blockage in an artery advances, until the patient can’t be treated or suddenly dies. Loved ones say, “It came out of nowhere.” Not true. It just remained undetected, a ticking time bomb that could have been defused years earlier.
So where does AI fit in?
The most expensive line item in precision medicine is the cost of having doctors read the results. AI can read lung and brain scans and review data from your heart, your kidneys, and other essential organs far more cheaply than doctors can. As a result, within five to 10 years, the price of precision medicine will plummet. You’ll get this same kind of testing as part of your regular health insurance. Or you’ll be able to walk into a drugstore and get the testing done for $99.
“We’ve doubled life expectancy over the last 150 years,” says Dr. Bill Kapp, CEO of Fountain Life, a precision medicine firm in Westchester, New York, offering the kind of testing described here. “We’ve taken care of infectious disease, food quality, water quality, and microbial and viral illnesses. So now we’re left with chronic diseases, which are typically not symptomatic until they are in the late stage. Thanks to AI, we will be able to diagnose you, or tell you your markers for disease, long before you become symptomatic.”
All of the above represents a massive shift for both patients and doctors. Kapp says that most of us are trained from early childhood that you only go to the doctor when you’re really sick. And for doctors, medical school training focuses on identifying symptoms and making diagnoses for sick people. They’re trained to ask, “Where does it hurt?” Wouldn’t it be better if they could keep you from getting sick in the first place?
With the democratization of precision medicine, society will shift from a mentality that says, “I’m sick and I need treatment” to “I’m healthy and I want to stay that way.”
Consider what AI makes possible – a shift from a “sick care” system to one focused on early diagnosis and treatment. Health care costs drop radically. Patients achieve better outcomes. We live longer, healthier, happier lives. We are no longer warehousing the elderly because they can remain active, living in their own homes and communities, for decades longer than before. Parents of young children aren’t exhausted because they also have to care for aging, ailing relatives.
Another area where AI makes a difference is in assimilating the vast amounts of new information about illness and treatment.
“Four thousand new articles a day are published in medical journals around the world,” Kapp says. “No doctor can keep up. Even with discoveries in basic science, there’s a 15-year gap from the time a discovery is made until it’s taught in medical school or becomes a part of treatment. No doctor can keep up with 4,000 articles a day – but AI can. This means we can get new ideas and new treatment modalities out there radically faster than before.”
Your grandmother told you that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. That’s why your grandmother would have loved AI.