The Smart Patient… A Shorter Journey Towards Recovery

7 October 2018

Inspired by "Professor Shafi Ahmed" part of "TANWEEN" Talks.

Does artificial intelligence revolutionize disease diagnosis and treatment?

Modern technology touches our lives in different ways and on a daily basis. The health sector is one of the most areas that are affected by the technological advancements. Whenever a new technology is analyzed (in terms of usefulness), the first question is always how can we use it to save peoples’ lives? And once this technology can be used in practice, the priority is to use it in the health sector, as that would mean that more lives can be saved.

Due to this level of importance, the technological progress had to be accompanied by a progress in the doctor-patient relationship. One side of this progress is the amount of information the patient has access to, these days. Search engines provide a large number of resources, that can be used by the diseased to diagnose himself, and decide, then, if the problem requires a visit to the doctor, or if he can treat himself at home, which in turn can save him time and money. Moreover, a patient who researches his symptoms before seeing a doctor can, usually, describe them with more accurately. This leads to a decrease in misunderstandings, which, in turn, cause the loss of lives. All of this constitutes the positive side of the flood of information; but it also constitutes its negative one.

A large part of this negative impact is due to the suspicious and unreliable internet sources. A lot of patients refuse doctors’ advice because of the undependable and unscientific opinions and personal experiences of others. Even on reliable online sources, the brief descriptions of symptoms can make them inaccurate. For example, Pneumonia and lung cancer have a number of the same symptoms. This is one of the reasons for the increase in the number of people who have Illness Anxiety Disorder (Hypochondriasis), which is a psychological condition that can be defined as the person’s belief that he has a serious illness despite having few or no symptoms. This drives him to request more examinations and tests, with little to no use in reassuring the patient, which drains him financially and emotionally and ruins his relationship with his doctor.

In spite of this, the positive sides of technological advancements outweigh the negative ones. There are many specialized websites that offer paid or free medical consultations around the clock. On these websites, the patient explains his condition in detail, through live interaction, which lessens the possibility of Hypochondriasis. Seeing a “virtual doctor” has, also, become more popular. These virtual visits require you to use certain (smartphone) applications to diagnose yourself with more accuracy and exclude false diagnosis. Modern electronic devices can also offer more services. An example of these devices is smart watches. Smart watches can record information, such as blood pressure and heart rate, which can be submitted to your doctor, periodically, for an analysis of any abnormalities. It has even become possible for humans to have a database containing all of their medical information and constituting an accurate, reliable health record. Doctors can also use artificial intelligence to calculate the patients’ chances of getting a disease in the future, and hence, take precautionary measures. This will lead to the reduction of the dangers of genetic (hereditary) disorders..

Based on this progress, the doctor-patient relationship doesn’t start with his visit anymore, but prior to that. Many hospitals have implemented an active electronic system, which allows for electronic scheduling of appointments, checking test results (by both doctor and patient), and communicating easily, saving the two parties’ time and effort. There are, also, recent translation applications, that use shortcuts and visual signals, to transcend the language barrier between the patient and the paramedic, in case of emergencies that happen away from hospitals. Expanding the use of these technologies achieves the biggest goal of our evolution, which is enhancing the quality of life. Accomplishing that will be the most important guarantee and standard of health.