You may not have yet come across a robot in a hospital lobby, or seen one of these articulated metal men move a patient. Surely he is more familiar with one of those home devices that monitor blood pressure or blood glucose. Robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) are allies of health and medicine that are here to stay. Its development allows us to venture applications that, in another time, could seem like science fiction.

The role that AI and robotics play is “still small. They are not widely used tools, generally high cost, with difficulties in their scaling and, sometimes, with serious problems of external validity. However, the potential for its use is enormous”, says Juanjo Beunza, director of machine learning health at the European University.

AI is behind “many of the stages of the health process, from prevention to diagnosis, through monitoring, personalized treatments or drug development”, highlights Juli Climent, director of Asho’s AI department.

In this development that is yet to come, “diagnostic algorithms, monitoring – remote or not – in real time of pathophysiological parameters and the use of machine learning algorithms for the management of all this large volume of data (big data) also in real time will radically change the way we conceive of health in general and medicine in particular”, predicts Beunza.

The handling of a large number of data facilitates the work of the physician

In a changing and increasingly complex environment in relation to the health data ecosystem, “AI provides invaluable help to health professionals, processing large amounts of data to facilitate decision-making.

Always bearing in mind that, ultimately, the decision will invariably be made by the doctor, not by the machine”, warns María Luaces, co-director of the Innovation Unit of the San Carlos Clinical Hospital in Madrid.

This alliance between technology and doctors and researchers has been made clear, for example, during the Covid-19 pandemic: “Algorithms have been developed that help diagnose lung pathology based on the radiological image of the patient, increasing efficiency of care at critical moments”, specifies Enrique Palau, director of health business development at Atos Iberia.

We may not be very aware, but “AI is already behind healthcare. On a day-to-day basis, we rely on expert systems for a large number of tasks, some of them unsophisticated, but very helpful.

The health sector appeals to public-private collaboration to advance

Without going any further, the alerts to biological parameters out of range, such as blood pressure or blood glucose, which the patients themselves know how to detect and interpret with devices for use at home”, says Luaces.

Experts agree that as the volume of health data increases, and this happens exponentially, and as technological capabilities for data analysis improve, it is possible to increase the complexity of the tasks used by AI. “In fact, the application of artificial intelligence to clinical imaging is one of the areas in which it has been most developed,” says Enrique Palau.

In just a few years we have witnessed “a very rapid development of advanced medical imaging techniques, in which organs, such as the heart, are in motion or in the obstetric image; In addition, we tend to look for three-dimensional images that reproduce the real appearance of the area being explored as reliably as possible”, adds María Luaces.

The great revolution will probably come from “the incorporation of automated data (IoT) in real time, including specifically medical sensors such as a pulse oximeter, a spirometer, a thermometer or an electroencephalographic wave sensor and non-medical sensors such as physical activity bracelets, parameters of driving cars, using television or social networks. When we add actuators and signal management algorithms to these sensors, the possibilities multiply”, specifies Beunza.

The application of these techniques has revolutionized clinical imaging with high reliability

As in other professional areas, it is not clear whether health needs drive technological progress or technological developments are ahead. Luaces is clear: “The detection of unresolved needs whose solutions have the maximum impact on society depends on constant dialogue between the different actors in the health system: people, health professionals, the academic world, industry and the Administration.

In fact, the more focused this identification of needs is on people, the greater the impact of the proposed solutions”.

Technological development has taken a huge leap in the last ten years, but it will surely be in the next five years when “these technical solutions are implemented massively in medicine,” concludes Beunza.

This is not science fiction

Leadership. The United States and China are by far the most advanced countries in AI and robotics. “Both have been collecting an enormous amount of data for years, they have a highly qualified workforce and governments that have seen artificial intelligence as a strategic bet,” highlights Climent (Asho).

Advantages. Experts agree on the great possibilities offered by data analysis, such as reducing waiting times, disease prevention or early detection, diagnostic imaging or 3D printing of personalized prostheses.

Drawbacks. The high human and material cost of AI technologies, the lack of professionals with practical knowledge of their use in health or “the unethical collection and use of health data or ‘black box’ algorithms that cannot be understood by humans”, warns Luaces (Hospital Clínico San Carlos).

Futures. The use of smart wearables (intelligent portable devices), equipped with alert systems that will be connected to the family doctor, will be more and more frequent. They will make it possible to detect and analyze information about our state of health and will make the health system more efficient, reduce waiting times and, in general, improve the quality of life of users.

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