The Technology That's Increasing Access to Healthcare

Unburdening the System is a Pressing Issue. Can AI help?

Why It Matters

AI-powered virtual health care platforms are tackling problems of access in the healthcare sector. They could prove a worthwhile case study for any sector facing accessibility problems due to distance or the limited availability of trained experts.

Remember the last time you were sick?

Your head was pounding, your throat raw, and leaving your bed was probably the last thing you wanted to do. On top of a trek through the winter cold, you likely would have spent some quality time in the clinic waiting room, sometimes staying hours in an uncomfortable plastic chair before you saw a doctor.

And that’s a best case scenario.

AI & Virtual Healthcare
Now imagine feeling like that while in a remote location: there is no clinic, there might not even be a resident doctor in your town. What then?

Researchers have started applying the machine learning algorithms of artificial intelligence to problems of healthcare. With the help of messaging, video chat, and algorithmic symptom diagnosis, AI-powered virtual healthcare is helping to fill gaps in the system.

The biggest takeaway for social impact leaders, whether involved in healthcare or not, should be the model put forth by these types of virtual platforms.

It can be applied to any sector where a major problem is limited access. Video chat and messaging resolve issues with distance, while AI can help maximize the productivity of human expertise.

Canada is a country with geographic isolation, harsh climate, and low population densities. The 36,000-plus person population of Nunavut, for example, is spread across 1.9 million square kilometres, with large communities located on arctic islands locked in sea ice and snow a good part of the year.

AI-powered virtual healthcare can help bring the healthcare system and provider to the patient instead of the other way around.

Even if you live in the middle of a metropolitan city, you could still find yourself facing extended wait times. AI healthcare programs are trying to help with that, too.

In Quebec, a province where the average wait time to be matched with a family doctor can now take up to 477 days, the startup AkioSoft has launched a new virtual clinic: AkioClinik. The patient first completes a personalized questionnaire. The platform then uses artificial intelligence to propose a list of possible diagnoses from the 8,000 diseases in the database. Everything is transmitted to the patient’s doctor, who has the option to call them into the office, send them for further tests, refer them to a specialist, or send a prescription directly to the pharmacy.

The platform learns and refines diagnoses from one patient to the next, though it is intended as a complementary tool, ultimately the certified physician makes the final diagnosis. By providing the opportunity of a diagnosis and prescription without ever leaving home, the software frees up physicians’ waiting rooms and time. Doctors will be able to treat more patients with more flexibility without working more hours.

Artificial Intelligence is no match for the years of training and learned experience of a certified healthcare practitioner, but AI-powered platforms can help expedite the workflow and maximize the impact of the trained experts we do have—whether that’s doctors, teachers, lawyers, or any other highly trained professional.