a doctor checking the blood pressure of an elderly man

China is turning to AI to help manage the growing demand on healthcare due to a rapidly aging population. Source: Shutterstock

China’s quest for better healthcare with AI

IN China, a rapidly aging population is putting a lot of stress on the country’s health care system.

By the United Nation’s estimate, China’s population over 65 will reach 330 million by 2050.

That’s roughly equal to the current total population of the US.

To keep up with the demand on the healthcare system, China is turning to Artificial Intelligence (AI).

The benefits of using AI is especially prominent in China. Medical services are scarce in rural areas; while urban areas are feeling the strain because of the growing population.

China’s smart healthcare strategy is part of its overall AI strategic plan, which includes the development of various AI-related healthcare technologies, putting a strong emphasis on elderly care.

Intelligent diagnosis, wearables, AI health monitoring, robot-assisted surgery, intelligent medical image recognition, and medical genomics are all in the pipeline.

In an article by the South China Morning Post, Dr. Andy Chun, associate professor at City University of Hong Kong described three key areas AI can be used in healthcare:

  1. Deep learning to analyze medical images
  2. Cognitive computing to capture and apply medical knowledge
  3. AI analytics to provide continuous health monitoring

“The medical profession is particularly well suited to the use of AI. Medical doctors rely greatly on perceptual senses, like vision and hearing, to gather information about patient health. Artificial neural network approaches such as deep-learning are ideal for exactly this type of work,” he explained.

Currently, Chinese researchers have successfully used AI on eye scans to diagnose congenital cataracts as accurately as human doctors.

Some hospitals are already using deep learning to process medical images, such as CT scans and X-rays, to identify and analyze abnormalities.

Amongst tech giants, Alibaba’s health unit uses AI on CT scans to help diagnosis, while Tencent uses AI for early cancer detection.

Beyond diagnosis, AI is used to read and understand millions of online documents.

For a medical professional, knowledge goes beyond textbook; they have to keep up to date with the newest medical research/journals and pharmaceutical products. For an AI to be able to record millions of data points, they can help speed up diagnosis and recommend treatment.

iFlyTek and Tsinghua University have created an AI system that passed the Chinese medical licensing exam. It even scored better than 96 percent of human examinees.

According to the SCMP, Frost & Sullivan predicted that AI has the potential to improve medical treatment outcomes by 30-40 percent, while reducing costs by 50 percent.

For AI to be accurate in predictive analytics, you’d need large amounts of data. On a related note, consumers are increasingly more health conscious, driving the use of wearables and health trackers.

With more affordable health trackers available to users, coupled with China’s population of 1.4 billion; this translates to virtually no shortage of real-time data.

As AI use becomes more prevalent in both the medical field and amongst consumers, China will soon be able to provide personalized health care to more people at a lower cost.