Health and Healthcare Systems

Equitable healthcare is the industry's north star. Here's how AI can get us there

To deliver equitable healthcare, the trifecta of human-AI-system collaboration will be key.

To deliver equitable healthcare, the trifecta of human-AI-system collaboration will be key. Image: Getty Images

Vincenzo Ventricelli
CEO, Philips Middle East, Türkiye & Africa
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  • While healthcare is better than ever, today, more patients than ever require care, with fewer and more strained resources.
  • Bridging that gap is no easy task — but artificial intelligence stands to help in a huge way.
  • To deliver equitable healthcare, the trifecta of human-AI-system collaboration will be key.

Today healthcare is better — more precise, more predictive and more preventative — than yesterday, and substantially more so than a year or a decade ago. Yet, despite innumerable leaps that make healthcare more efficient, no region is expected to reach the Sustainable Development Goals target for noncommunicable disease mortality by 2030.

We don’t have to delve too deep to understand why. While we’re making substantial progress in healthcare, or rather sick-care innovation, more patients than ever require care, with fewer and more strained resources.

To achieve quality healthcare for all, we need to address preconditions simultaneously by preventing illness and managing health risks with the resources we have. Essentially, we must do more with less.

That’s the future of healthcare is a collaborative effort where artificial intelligence (AI) can leapfrog longstanding barriers. That’s a future where professionals are empowered, the environment is protected and everyone has access to the care they need, when they need it.

This is the revolution we're building. It is a transformation driven by the trifecta of equitable healthcare: human ingenuity, system design and AI.

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AI: System collaboration to shield populations from disease

The World Health Organization has named climate change as the biggest health threat facing humanity; predicting that climate change will cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year between 2030 and 2050.

But it’s not a concern just for the future. People around the world are already suffering from the impact of climate change through injuries and premature deaths related to extreme weather events, increased respiratory and cardiovascular disease and changes in infectious diseases patterns, all with immeasurable impact on mental health.

Paradoxically, global healthcare systems account for 4.4% of net global CO₂ emissions, more than the aviation or shipping industries, while also generating excessive levels of waste.

Health tech innovations such as AI-powered care and remote diagnostics can and must help reduce our impact on the environment, which is a precondition for many of these challenges.

That’s why it’s so important to meet the potential of next-generation technology to drive down the negative impact on the environment, while also preventing disease. For instance, the introduction of autonomous AI in the healthcare system has the potential to limit greenhouse gas emissions, most notably by reducing transport, or preventing duplicate scans and interventions.

An important precursor to this is having access to quality, comprehensive population health data. Malaffi is a prime example of this is, offering the UAE’s first Health Information Exchange (HIE) platform that is safely connecting public and private healthcare providers in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. The platform ensures a reliable and standardized method for exchanging patient and clinical data and is a catalyst for revolutionizing healthcare interoperability — empowering providers to share information and medical images seamlessly and securely, ultimately enhancing patient care of the future.

In parallel, AI-powered disease and critical care prediction hold powerful opportunities to lower the need for healthcare. A recent breakthrough in AI application suggests that a heart attack could be predicted up to 10 years before it happens, while deep machine learning offers the potential to predict lung cancer risk for the next one to six years.

We’ve long known that early diagnosis is key, but let’s imagine being able to consistently course-correct before illness or disease, how a patient’s treatment journey, need for medical intervention, and outcomes could change.

That is why large-scale screenings and automated solutions are prerequisites to move the system from sick-care to equitable healthcare.

AI could analyze entire communities, identifying risk factors and enabling preventative measures on a massive scale. This is how we move from simply treating symptoms to actively preventing illness, and ultimately improving population health.

AI and healthcare professionals: A team effort

AI will continue to transform healthcare delivery. But to get it right, we need to look beyond systemic change and go to the core of care — to the people that deliver it. Healthcare professionals, empowered by AI, can make even more informed decisions for their patients.

This means new skills will be crucial for healthcare professionals. They will need to learn to work alongside AI, interpret its insights and fill its gaps to deliver the best possible care.

Unlocking the potential of a healthcare professional’s intelligent AI-teammate calls for a mindset shift that embraces continuous learning beyond traditional medical specialization.

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What is the World Economic Forum doing to improve healthcare systems?

To prepare for AI integration in healthcare, healthcare professionals will need to build their data fluency and technical skills and learn the specific applications of AI in their field of interest or expertise. They also must be aware of the best practices and standards for using AI in healthcare, such as data quality, privacy, security and ethics.

Initiatives like Philips' partnership with the Saudi Data & AI Authority (SDAIA), built on a scientific exchange programme that focuses on training local healthcare professionals and data scientists, plays a crucial role. These collaborations empower local communities with the latest health technologies, fostering a future of equitable healthcare access.

This collaboration highlights the importance of maintaining critical thought. Ensuring humans validate and cross-reference patient consultations will remain key, rather than implicitly trusting AI, which might not have all the information and context.

And finally, arguably the most important element, is to remain clear about where clinicians add the most value: human interaction. Healthcare professionals need to enhance their human skills, such as practicing empathy, listening, sharing feedback and problem-solving, alongside their patients and AI.

The future of AI in healthcare provides boundless opportunities to make what previously seemed impossible — delivering equitable healthcare — a reality for all.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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Health and Healthcare SystemsEmerging Technologies
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