Technologies have turned many tasks which were once thought impossible, into a reality today. From peer-to-peer ride-sharing company – such as Uber – to artificial intelligence (AI) making tuberculosis and heart disease diagnoses, these advancements have helped shape the society into what it is today.

As with every ground-breaking invention, these technologies have, or potentially will, captured a large segment of the market and displaced much other competing expertise. Some of the uses of these technologies, however, raise intriguing dilemmas among patients and healthcare providers (HCPs) alike.

Uber or ambulance?

A working paper was published late last year by two researchers – Leon Moskatel and David Slusky – that explored the association between the presence of Uber, a peer-to-peer ride-sharing transport company, and the per capita usage of ambulance across the US. The duo discovered that in cities where UberX was available, there was at least a 7% drop in the per capita ambulance volume.

David Slusky, the corresponding author and an economist at University of Kansas, said that “many patients don’t need something that can break traffic laws and don’t need something staffed by paramedics with a bunch of fancy equipment.”

David Slusky and fellow authors agreed from their study that ambulance may not be the ideal transportation to bring low-risk patients into the emergency room. Photo credit: Alex Smith/KCUR
David Slusky and fellow authors agreed from their study that ambulance may not be the ideal transportation to bring low-risk patients into the emergency room. Photo credit: Alex Smith/KCUR

They argued that ambulance may not be the ideal transportation to bring low-risk patients into the emergency room. As vital as ambulances to any medical service, these specialised vehicles “come in single, homogeneous, high intervention form, which is at times unnecessary, resulting in excessive costs for patients and insurers,” wrote the authors.

Under certain circumstances, it makes perfect sense to opt for alternative transport for the trip to the hospitals, especially when the condition does not require urgent medical attention. Using Uber, or any other ridesharing transport for the matter of fact appears to be a more financially sound option.

Of course, there are legal and medical boundaries beyond which one must not cross, lest one wishes to incur legal liability or jeopardise one’s health. For example, when the patient shows life-threatening symptoms like trouble breathing or signs of stroke, an ambulance is clearly the only viable option.

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Dr AI will see you now

Another emerging technology that has piqued the interest and imagination of the mass population is none other than AI. Opinions are polarized when it comes to the potential benefits or threats posed by AI, which is becoming more powerful with each piece of new datum being fed to their algorithm.

In recent years, AI has become sufficiently powerful to perform complicated medical tasks, such as diagnosing tuberculosis from chest x-ray films or detecting heart diseases with a high level of accuracy. Some researchers even believe that AI is as capable as, if not better than, their human counterparts. The Human Diagnosis Project is, perhaps, one of the more optimistic attempts to harness the combined expertise of AI and the real-life experience of doctors in creating a comprehensive system to aid clinical care.

As powerful as these AI programmes are, one critical question remains in the quest for better medical treatment: does the patient wish to be treated solely by a computer programme?

Artificial intelligence is well-positioned to take over routine medical tasks, but falters when it comes to treating mental illnesses.
Artificial intelligence is well-positioned to take over routine medical tasks, but falters when it comes to treating mental illnesses.

The question is as much a medical inquiry as it is a philosophical one. This question resonates well within the field of mental healthcare. Algorithms were being built to identify audio cues that signify a patient's emotional state, whether the voice differences indicate a bipolar patient is at his/her manic versus depressed state, or to help recognise if a person is suffering from depression.

However, a successful treatment of mental illnesses goes far beyond recognising when a patient is depressed or manic. Many forms of treatment involve a delicate human touch, such as the many types of psychotherapy.

"I see the value of AI today as augmenting humans, not as replacing humans," said the Chief Behavioural Science Officer of a Boston-based AI and behavioural analytic company, Skyler Place.

In the end, it is the wellbeing of the end users – the patients – that matters most. Technologies should grow to complement human effort in combating illnesses and not completely replace them. As told by Shantanu Nundy, the Director of the Human Diagnosis Project, "You have to design these things [AI] with an end user in mind. People use Netflix, but it's not like ‘AI for watching movies', right? People use Amazon, but it's not like ‘AI for shopping’.” MIMS

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Sources:
https://slate.com/technology/2018/02/when-should-you-uber-to-the-hospital-and-when-should-you-call-an-ambulance.html
http://www2.ku.edu/~kuwpaper/2017Papers/201708.pdf
https://news.ku.edu/2017/12/08/uber-reduces-ambulance-usage-major-cities-economists-find
https://futurism.com/ai-medicine-doctor/
https://www.humandx.org/
http://www.healthcareitnews.com/news/how-artificial-intelligence-helping-detect-tuberculosis-remote-areas
http://www.bbc.com/news/health-42357257
http://medicalfuturist.com/ibm-watson-is-the-stethoscope-of-the-21st-century/
http://kcur.org/post/ku-economist-says-uber-may-be-driving-down-use-costly-ambulances#stream/0