Artificial intelligence (AI) is everywhere. It’s in our shopping experiences, our search engines, our dining and entertainment recommendations. We’ve seen AI-based medicine on TV for decades, and we can make that a reality — if we go deeper.
I’m more excited than ever about the possibilities of AI in health care, but we need to get past the hype on ideas like robots replacing doctors and demonstrate that AI applications can really pay off. We need to find clear connections between AI capabilities and real needs in the health care system.
One of those needs is new ways to diagnose and treat chronic diseases. For example, take Alzheimer’s disease — a debilitating condition that slowly degrades memory and other mental functions for millions of people living with the disease. Alzheimer’s has been difficult to treat and impossible to cure, with more than 99 percent of the Alzheimer’s drug trials failing over the past decade. However, progress is being made.
Together with its partners, OptumLabs® is identifying people at risk of developing Alzheimer’s or dementia to get them into clinical trials early enough to make a difference. The first step is using big data — decades worth of deidentified data on more than 150 million patients — and applying AI to find Alzheimer’s and dementia warning signs that present years before onset.
The ability of sophisticated analytics engines to find patterns in past behavior and use them to predict future behavior is real. It can help us not only answer questions, but know which questions to ask. Adding natural language processing (NLP) to the process can help unlock insights that were previously hidden away in unstructured data, such as provider notes on a clinic visit, helping surface even more patterns. Predictive analytics have been part of risk adjustment and revenue cycle management for decades. However, NLP is finding meaning in medical records and gaps in documentation, which has value beyond health care finance — it’s time to use that ability to improve health outcomes too.
To learn more about the work on Alzheimer’s, listen to this National Public Radio podcast featuring OptumLabs chief medical officer Darshak Sanghavi.
About the author:
Mark Morsch, vice president of technology for Optum, is an innovation leader with a focus on developing products using natural language processing and other forms of artificial intelligence to help transform our health care system. Guided by the goal to deliver the right information at the right time to the right audience. Inspired to build world-class development teams that can drive innovation and surpass client expectations through creativity, engagement and hard work.