Enabling health care with artificial intelligence

By Dhannu Daniel*
Tuesday, 16 July, 2019

Enabling health care with artificial intelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI) is augmenting human capabilities and enabling people and machines to work collaboratively, thereby changing the very nature of healthcare work.

A healthcare executive survey showed that an impressive 72% of Australian healthcare leaders are either piloting or planning AI adoption.1 Furthermore, 93% of health executives have AI projects on their agenda, with just 7% saying they are minimally or not at all focused on AI.

With the strong focus on implementing AI, Accenture has identified four areas that healthcare organisations need to focus on to generate a strong return on investment (ROI) and ensure AI and humans work effectively together.

1. AI supporting humans

Staff shortages are increasingly becoming a problem within the healthcare sector in Australia. In fact, the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine reported that because of staff shortages in the Emergency Department, waiting times are “as bad as it gets” in Australia. AI can alleviate some of the burden as it has the potential to complete a range of tasks such as determining which patients need to be seen first.

For example, a company called Viz.ai uses machine learning to differentiate patients who need urgent attention from those who may safely wait, by analysing scans of their brains made on admission into Accident and Emergency (A&E). This is particularly useful in the case of stroke patients where getting the patient the right treatment at the right time can be life saving.

The University College Hospital in London has developed AI to predict which patients are most likely to miss appointments. Through creating an algorithm using records from 22,000 appointments for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, it was able to identify 90% of those patients who would not attend their appointment, resulting in cutting waiting times, increasing productivity and saving money for the hospital.

In the pharmaceutical sector, AI could assist by taking a new drug to market more effectively and efficiently. The sales process can be time-consuming and competitive. By leveraging the power of AI analytics, doctors and pharmaceutical companies have faster access to insights on prescription patterns, sales forecasts, patient journeys and customer preferences.

2. Humans ensure AI is ethical

The application of AI within health care raises several ethical problems that need to be considered before any investments are made. AI does not have the same ethical consciousness that humans have, and it cannot necessarily determine right from wrong — for example, the determination between patient rights versus public health when dealing with certain datasets.

Furthermore, as more people willingly submit their own genetic and genomic information direct to consumer companies, there is the potential for discrimination — whether for long-term care or life insurance — on the basis of that data.

Given the increasing role of AI in health care, we cannot advance health care without humans having oversight of AI. Hospitals and pharmaceutical companies have a duty of care to patients to ensure that they are building responsible AI which is free of bias. Many companies, and particularly those considered early adopters of AI, are doing so with the help of internal AI ethics committees, which ensure the organisation adheres to all of the rules and regulations around the use of AI.

3. AI complements analysis of data in a way that humans cannot

One of the key benefits of AI is its ability to analyse large quantities of data. People simply cannot do this on their own at such a pace, so humans can leverage AI to generate the insights they need.

For both pharmaceutical companies and hospitals, analysing patient feedback at scale is no easy task. Accenture helped a healthcare company leverage machine learning to create a sentiment analyser tool, which helped identify the emotional context of patient feedback with over 70% accuracy. In allocating this to the right part of the business, it has provided customer service teams with access to a rich source of insights on what is really working for patients and what is not.

Medical imaging is another area which requires a significant amount of data analysis and where the implementation of AI could be beneficial. AI-powered medical imaging systems can produce scans that help radiologists identify patterns and treat patients with emergent or serious conditions more quickly. By embracing the machine as an integral part of the care team and enabling it to automate routine procedures and processes, clinicians can:

  • focus on the most complex and critically ill patients, and
  • diagnose and treat disease more efficiently and effectively.

For example, Intel and GE Healthcare are piloting a new X-ray analytics tool to improve the quality of medical imaging. Healthcare’s oldest form of medical imaging, X-ray scans, accounts for three-fifths of all medical imaging; however, the number of images that cannot be used due to poor image quality or patient positioning can approach 25%. It is hoped that the new technology will eventually help radiologists and technologists get the right image on the first try, therefore improving department productivity and freeing up more time for clinical interpretation and patient interaction.

4. AI augments a human’s complex physical and mental skills

In the age of human and machine collaboration, AI augments a human’s mental and physical skillset. For example, robots are increasingly being used by surgeons in microsurgical procedures to reduce mistakes that could affect a patient’s recovery. Last year, more than 5000 surgical robots were used in over a million procedures worldwide, spanning across specialty areas such as orthopaedics, urology, general surgery, gynaecology, neurology, thoracic, otolaryngology, even dental implants and hair transplants.

These are significant benefits that can be seen by introducing AI into the healthcare setting, particularly in the areas of patient experience, efficiency, accuracy and cost savings. It can transform the industry and the time is now.


*Dhannu Daniel is Accenture’s Lifesciences Lead for Australia and New Zealand.


1. Injecting Intelligence into Healthcare - Accenture Executive Survey on AI in Healthcare Australia, Accenture, 2018

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/peshkova

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