Artificial intelligence: coming soon to a hospital near you

Human intelligence has long powered hospitals and health care. We rely on doctors, nurses, and a variety of other clinicians to solve problems and create new solutions. Advances in artificial intelligence are now making it possible to apply this form of computer-based “thinking” to health care.

As the chief technology officer for a new state-of-the-art advanced medical learning facility, I have been closely watching developments in artificial intelligence. Here are three areas — training, surgical robots, and data mining — in which I believe it will begin making a difference sooner rather than later.

Games for surgeons

Inside their operating rooms, surgeons are the captains of the ship. They possess extensive medical training and the skills to apply it. But they rely on the cooperation and contributions of the entire team to make the most of those skills. Unfortunately, few surgeons get training in how to effectively lead people with different educational and skill backgrounds.

Creating environments in which all members of an operating room team can come together to learn and practice communication skills is a significant challenge. There are, of course, standard communication protocols for teamwork in health care. They have been gathered into in a national program known as TeamSTEPPS . However, the opportunity to really learn to communicate in the operating room seldom exists because different players on the team get their education and training via separate professional organizations and events.

To overcome this problem, my colleagues and I at the Florida Hospital Nicholson Center worked with a game development company called ARA/Virtual Heroes to create a virtual world in which a surgeon can practice team communication and leadership. This game runs on the same type of avatar intelligence underpinning teammates in the “Call of Duty” games. The automated avatars give audio feedback and guidance to help the surgeon make the right choices. A collection of rules, conditions, and scripts guide the surgeon through a scenario in the operating room and teach him or her which actions and decisions are correct and which ones aren’t. Game scenarios have decision branches that lead to favorable and unfavorable outcomes. As with most such games, there is just a single path through the scenario that leads to a successful conclusion and a corresponding score derived from making correct and incorrect decisions.

SwissCognitive LogoIntelligent robots

Major advances in robotic surgery let doctors perform many types of complex procedures with more precision, flexibility, and control than is possible with other conventional techniques. Robots like the da Vinci Surgical System provide a platform for translating a surgeon’s movements into precise actions with advanced instruments. Current robots, however, are not aware of the anatomy they show the surgeon, the procedures they are being used to perform, or what the surgeon intends to do. They are fantastic tools, but they aren’t yet intelligent assistants. […]

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