Artificial intelligence is here and one of the industries it is most expected to transform is healthcare. Reflecting back upon the myriad private early-growth companies we have analyzed in recent months, we have reviewed numerous innovative and disruptive solutions that leverage AI to enhance everything from diagnostics and clinical infrastructure to records management, preventative care, and patient empowerment.
Healthcare creates singular challenges and opportunities for AI. The private companies we evaluate typically fall into two distinct areas: personal wellness and medical diagnosis / treatment. The first is about preventative care and lifestyle changes, driven by the individual and assisted by the increasing intelligence and personalization of devices. The second falls under the regulated and higher-stakes world of clinics and hospitals.
A near-term area that we are watching closely is the market for diagnostic technology. Imagine you go to the hospital for a CAT scan or MRI. Before the physician or technician reviews the images, an algorithm will interpret the data and flag every irregularity. This accelerates the caregivers’ efforts, draws their attention to issues, and reduces the likelihood of something being overlooked. Such processes are under review by regulatory bodies right now.
Doctors may be more apt to embrace such use of AI, but it is worth considering what will become of the deluge of tracking data. A variety of personal health-monitoring devices automatically pinging clinics with potential concerns creates the real concern of ‘alert fatigue.’ In the short term we think it is more likely that wearable data will be a useful diagnostic supplement available upon request.
Consistent with the growing trend of the ‘Convenience Economy’ we are likely to see a greater demand from consumers to have everything available at their fingertips through a website or app. This has the potential to reshape low-risk patient care. For example, AI may lead to chatbot-style physician care, where a series of targeted questions combined with biometrics, available from your Apple Watch or iPhone, will empower consumers to take a more proactive stance towards preventative medicine.
Much has been discussed about how our healthcare system is flawed because it incents procedural treatment and intervention over prevention. We believe that younger, relatively healthy consumers will be the initial adopters of such technologies. A logical outgrowth of the ‘quantified self’ movement, younger and healthier consumers benefit from unprecedented levels of accuracy and affordability in measuring personal vitals—heartrate, blood pressure, sleep quality, BMI measurement, O2 saturation—enabled by smartphones and inexpensive wearables. As these devices become more pervasive, we believe that mass consumer adoption will eventually catalyze a fundamental rethinking of healthcare billing and reimbursement models in the longer term.
Telemedicine has made consulting a physician much more convenient and accessible. But, an electronic AI-enabled physician assistant would greatly reduce cost, act as a first line of triage, and increase efficiency of healthcare delivery. We don’t believe AI will fully supplant human judgment. But even in an augmentative diagnostic capacity, AI will have a big role to play in addressing healthcare costs, coverage, accessibility, and efficiency.
In the medium- to longer-term, AI holds the key to delivering on the long-awaited promise of truly personalized medicine. Imagine that a patient anywhere in the world can share a DNA or blood sample and AI becomes the first-line, ubiquitous digital assistant to conduct an initial analysis and diagnosis. Then, as necessary, the case escalates to the right expert, who now has all the relevant information at their fingertips.
In navigating this opportunity emerging growth companies will have to deal with the thorny regulatory regime, including robust data privacy laws. AI algorithms are only as powerful as the data available. That essential data upon which machine learning thrives will propel big data analytics in healthcare to a $70 billion market opportunity by 2025. We so look forward to investing in those companies that are poised to fundamentally transform healthcare, empowering both patients and providers in the process.