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Oct 19, 2018

Investing in Artificial Intelligence for human healthcare

By Hans Hofstraat
Vice President at Philips Research

Estimated reading time: 7-9 minutes

We mainly know Artificial Intelligence (AI) as a technology that can improve the efficiency and effectiveness of processes. That is why AI is being leveraged in more and more industries, including more recently also healthcare. But don’t worry: I don't believe you will find a robot replacing a doctor at your bedside any time soon, rather the contrary. Because no matter how paradoxical it may sound, I believe AI can make healthcare more human. After all, regard for the patient is just as important as quality healthcare. And whatever tools may end up being used, humans will always remain in control. The doctor makes all decisions in consultation with the patient.


These decisions could be better adapted to the individual patient. AI solutions support the caregiver by taking the burden off routine work and helping them to take a quick and optimum decision for a specific patient, based on all relevant information available. That is why I prefer not to speak of Artificial, but of Adaptive Intelligence being a technology, that takes into account both the user and the specific context.

How paradoxical it may sound, I believe AI can make healthcare more human.

Remain in control


The healthcare sector may need time to get used to it, but in other aspects of our lives, we already trust smart and predictive algorithms for some time now. For instance, how do you get directions when driving to a new destination? Navigation systems flawlessly point the way and automatically take actual traffic information into account. This a lot easier and more reliable than working out a path on a map and tracking traffic jams on the radio. At the same time, we remain in control: we can also ignore the GPS and take a different route, even if we're told to ‘make a U-turn when possible'.

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The applications for healthcare operate in a similar manner. They don't replace a doctor or nurse, but rather support them in their work. This is convenient for the healthcare professional, but also for patients and their families. Wouldn't it be reassuring to know that smart sensors can ensure that your father's vital functions are constantly being monitored during his stay in the ward, even if the nurse is not in the room and the doctor is having office hours? And if those sensors are linked to AI, even the smallest changes in his condition are noticed. An early warning system alerts the doctor about possible complications before your father's condition can worsen, possibly preventing a serious situation. 

AI applications in healthcare don't replace a doctor or nurse, but rather support them in their work.



This is only one example of how AI could have a positive impact on healthcare. I am wildly enthusiastic when I see how Philips and other innovative companies are successfully integrating AI into more and more healthcare solutions. After all, AI allows caregivers to truly put the patient first. It takes the burden off routine activities, leaving more time and attention for the patient. At the same time, AI offers insight into relevant diagnostic and clinical data, which enables treatments to be integrated and personalized more and more. This is particularly important for complex diseases such as cancer. In that case, multiple disciplines need to collaborate to reach an precise diagnosis and an effective treatment. This is better for the patient, better for caregivers, and also offers opportunities to control the costs of healthcare. That is what I call a genuine win-win-win situation. 

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Taking on challenges at the national level


AI has an enormous potential. This is nevertheless not quite fully appreciated in the Netherlands, let alone that it’s optimally used. Countries such as China and the US, but for instance the United Kingdom and France as well, are very much investing in an overall approach to AI. France, for instance, has set itself the clear goal of positioning itself (and Europe) in first place between the private 'digital superpowers' from the US and the public superpower China, both from an industrial and commercial perspective.


I believe a national AI strategy is essential to tackle some of the current challenges. The shortage of people with the right knowledge and skills to develop AI solutions, for instance. We should be expanding the capacity of study programs in the field of AI, rather than restricting the number of admissions. I furthermore consider it necessary to create a national data infrastructure, within which data is available to patients, caregivers and citizens in a secure and structured format. Finally, we could do a better job in connecting innovative startups to large corporations. This enables new ideas to be scaled up at a much faster pace. At Philips, we recently launched a program in which we collaborate with startups focusing on AI in the fields of radiology, ultrasound and oncology. We offer them access to our expertise and our partner network to further develop their AI applications as well as test and improve their business models. From among 750 interested startups across the world, 19 were selected for the Startup Program, including 1 from the Netherlands. On December 12, several of these startups will present their inspiring AI solutions during Breakthrough Day in Eindhoven. 

A national AI strategy is essential to tackle several of today's challenges. The shortage of people with the right knowledge and skills to develop AI solutions for instance.

Invest to innovate


Regardless, doing nothing is not an option: the Netherlands will simply fall behind. We simply cannot miss out on the major opportunities offered by AI in numerous fields, including healthcare. That is why we need to take action and invest, to be able to innovate faster. Not in some distant future, but right now. After all, tomorrow's healthcare is already being decided today.

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Richard Kemkers

Hans Hofstraat

Vice President at Philips Research

Hans is an experienced Innovation Program Manager, with a proven track record of building open innovation partnerships and innovation management within the hospital and healthcare industry across the globe.

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