Machine Learning in Healthcare: 12 Real-World Use Cases to Know

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Machine learning (ML) is a subclass of artificial intelligence technology, where algorithms process large data sets to detect patterns, learn from them, and execute tasks autonomously without being instructed on exactly how to address the problem. In recent years, the wide availability of powerful hardware and cloud computing has resulted in the broader adoption of ML in different areas of human lives, from using it for recommendations on social media to adopting it for process automation in factories. And its adoption will only grow further.

Healthcare is an industry that keeps up with the times as well. With the amount of data generated for each patient, machine learning algorithms in healthcare have great potential. So, that’s no wonder that there are multiple successful machine learning applications in healthcare right now. Let’s learn more about them.

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Tasks that Machine Learning in Healthcare Can Handle

Machine Learning in Healthcare: 12 Real-World Use Cases

Machine learning techniques can be applied to solve a wide variety of tasks. When it comes to applications of machine learning in healthcare, these tasks include:

  • Classification — machine learning algorithms can help to determine and label the kind of disease or medical case you’re dealing with;
  • Recommendations — machine learning algorithms can offer necessary medical information without the need to actively search for it;
  • Clustering — machine learning can help to group together similar medical cases to analyze the patterns and conduct research in the future;
  • Prediction — using current data and common trends, machine learning can make a prognosis on how the future events will unfold;
  • Anomaly detection — using machine learning in healthcare, you can find the things that stand out from common patterns and determine whether they require any actions to be performed;
  • Automation — machine learning can handle standard repetitive tasks that take too much time and effort from doctors and patients, like data entry, appointment scheduling, inventory management, etc.;
  • Ranking — machine learning can put the relevant information first, making the search for it easier.

The Opportunities Machine Learning for Healthcare Provides

Using machine learning for healthcare for tasks above can provide a lot of opportunities for healthcare organizations. First, it allows healthcare professionals to focus on patient care rather than spend their time on information search or entry.

The second important role of machine learning in healthcare is the increase of diagnosing accuracy. For example, machine learning has proven to be 92% accurate in predicting the mortality of COVID-19 patients.

Third, using machine learning in medicine can help to develop a more precise treatment plan. A lot of medical cases are unique and require a special approach for effective care and side effect reduction. Machine learning algorithms can simplify the search for such solutions.

Benefits of Machine Learning in Healthcare

Using machine learning in healthcare operations can be extremely beneficial to the company. Machine learning was made to deal with large data sets, and patient files are exactly that – many data points that need thorough analysis and organizing.

Moreover, while a healthcare professional and a machine learning algorithm will most likely achieve the same conclusion based on the same data set, using machine learning will get the results much faster, allowing to start the treatment earlier.

Another point for using machine learning techniques in healthcare is eliminating human involvement to some degree, which reduces the possibility of human error. This especially concerns process automation tasks, as tedious routine work is where humans err the most.

Top 12 Examples of Machine Learning in Healthcare

Machine Learning in Healthcare: 12 Real-World Use Cases

1. Clinical Decision Support Systems

Clinical decision support tools help analyze large volumes of data to identify a disease, decide on the next treatment stage, determine any potential problems, and overall improve patient care efficiency. CDSS is a powerful tool that helps the physician do their job efficiently and quickly, and it reduces the chances of getting the wrong diagnosis or prescribing ineffective treatment.

This use of machine learning in medicine (healthcare) has been around for a while but has become more widespread in recent years. The reason behind it is the wider acceptance of the electronic health record system (EHR) and digitalization of various data points, including medical images.

2. Smart Recordkeeping

Making sure that all the patient records are updated regularly is challenging, as data entry is a monotonous task. However, it is also crucial for effective decision-making and better patient care.

One of the uses of machine learning in healthcare is using optical character recognition (OCR) technology on physicians’ handwriting, making the data entry fast and seamless. This data can then be analyzed by other machine learning tools to improve decision-making and patient care.

3. Machine Learning in Medical Imaging

For the longest time, medical images, like X-rays, have been analog. This has limited the use of technology for anomaly identification, case grouping, and overall disease research. Fortunately, the digitalization of the process has led to more opportunities with these types of data analysis, including with the help of machine learning. And, according to a recent meta-analysis, machine learning algorithms do the job as well as (and, in some cases, even better) human specialists, with 87.0% sensitivity and 92.5% specificity for the deep learning algorithms and 86.4% sensitivity and 90.5% specificity for human physicians.

One of the well-known successful examples of machine learning in healthcare is the InnerEye project from Microsoft. Its initial focus was on 3D radiological images, where ML tools were built to differentiate healthy cells and tumors.

4. Personalized Medicine

What makes medicine such a complex and resource-heavy field is that every case has its specifics. People often have a sleuth of conditions that require simultaneous treatment. So, complex decisions must be made to construct an effective treatment plan, accounting for drug interactions and minimizing potential side effects.

How to use machine learning in healthcare to solve this problem? Well, IBM has figured that out with their Watson Oncology system that uses the patient history to produce multiple potential treatment options.

5. Behavior Adjustments

Prevention is as important in healthcare as disease treatment. One of the most important parts of preventive medicine is modifying one’s behavior to get rid of unhealthy habits and establish a healthy lifestyle.

One of the benefits of machine learning in healthcare is that it can be used to point out something we don’t notice. That’s exactly what Somatix does. This machine learning-based application follows the patient’s daily activity and points out their unconscious habits and routine so that they can focus on getting rid of them.

6. Predictive Approach to Treatment

When it comes to most dangerous diseases, identifying them in the early stages can raise the chances of successful treatment significantly. This also helps to identify the possibility of any potential worsening of the patient’s state before it happens.

One of the cases for the importance of machine learning in healthcare is that it can be used to successfully predict some of the most dangerous diseases in at-risk patients. This includes the identification of signs of diabetes (using a Naïve Bayes algorithm), liver and kidney diseases, and oncology.

7. Data Collection

One of the most important responsibilities for a physician is to gather a patient’s history properly. This can often be challenging, as the patient is not a specialist and doesn’t know which data is relevant to disclose.

Using machine learning in healthcare management, healthcare professionals can determine the most relevant questions they should ask a patient based on various indicators. This will help collect relevant data and, at the same time, get a prediction of the most likely conditions.

8. Elderly and Low-Mobility Groups Care

Machine learning and medicine can help low-mobility groups (including the elderly and people using wheelchairs) improve their day-to-day lives with smart reminders and scheduling help, predict and avoid potential injuries by identifying common obstacles and determining the optimal paths, and acquire help as soon as needed.

While these solutions are effective, they are not as widespread as needed. However, healthcare companies already take steps to make them widely available. For example, in Japan, there is a plan to have 75% of elderly care performed by an AI.

9. Robotic Surgery

Surgical procedures require great precision, adaptability to changing circumstances, and a steady approach for an extended period. While trained surgeons have all these qualities, one of the opportunities in machine learning for healthcare is for robots to fulfill these tasks.

Right now, robotic surgery can be effectively used as a help for human surgeons. Namely, machine learning can be used for better surgery modeling and planning, evaluating the surgeon’s skills, and simplifying surgical tasks like suturing.

10. Drug Discovery and Production

Based on the previously acquired data on active components in drugs and how they affect the organism, ML algorithms can model an active component that would work on another similar disease.

Such an approach can be used to develop a personal medication for patients with a unique set of illnesses or certain special requirements. In the future, this machine learning tool could be used in combination with nanotechnology for better drug delivery.

11. Clinical Research

Clinical research and trials are costly and lengthy processes. There is a good reason behind this – new drugs and medical procedures should be proven to be safe before being used widely. However, there are cases when the solution needs to be released as soon as possible – like with the vaccines for COVID-19.

Fortunately, there is a way to make the process shorter with the help of machine learning algorithms. It can be used to determine the best sample for the trial, gather more data points, analyze the ongoing data from the trial participants, and reduce the data-based errors.

12. Infectious Disease Outbreak Prediction

COVID-19 pandemic has shown us how unprepared we were to an infectious disease outbreak of this size. It is worth mentioning that experts in the area have warned the government about the possibility of such an event for years.

Now, we have tools based on machine learning that can help to detect the signs of an epidemic early on. The algorithms analyze the satellite data, news, and social media reports, even video sources to predict whether the disease has the potential to grow out of control.

Ethics of Employing ML in Healthcare

machine learning in healthcare projects

The use of AI has been a source of ethical dilemmas for a long time. However, some of them are specific to the use of machine learning in healthcare. Let’s review the most notable ones:

Privacy and Data Security

HIPAA and other privacy regulations ensure the security of the patient’s information. Everybody should have a right to keep information about their health private. Nevertheless, a lot of healthcare data leaks are happening every day that result in up to $16 million penalties for healthcare providers. However, data is the blood of the machine learning organism. How can these points effectively coexist?

This challenge is difficult to overcome. In most cases, machine learning doesn’t require a full spectrum of information on the patient (like name, email, phone number, and insurance policy number); thus, it can be effectively anonymized so that the person’s identity cannot be revealed, while the precision of the ML-algorithm won’t be discounted. For others, special data security approaches have to be implemented to ensure patient anonymity. If you want to learn more about security in healthcare software development – check out our special article on this: https://nix-united.com/blog/how-to-develop-a-hipaa-compliant-software/

Autonomy Issues

Machine learning can be effectively used to help the elderly and people with psychological issues make decisions to improve their health. This concerns taking the right medications, creating healthy habits, and referring to the specialist whenever needed.

However, the ethical issue behind this is that people will potentially give up their autonomy and act as they are told. It limits their potential choice range to certain recommended options. So, a clear balance between the instructions from the algorithm and freedom of personal choice should be provided.

Patient Safety

The decisions made by the machine learning algorithm completely rely on the data it has been learned on. If the input is unreliable or wrong, the result will be wrong as well. The flawed decision can harm the patient or even cause their death.

The ethical dilemma here is who would be responsible for the death of a patient because of the decision made by an algorithm? Right now, this remains an open question. The final decision on the treatment method is behind the patient, who should be informed about all the benefits and risks of each treatment method. 

Transparency and Informed Consent

Machine learning algorithms rely on data. The more relevant data is available, the better they work, and the more precise results and predictions could be achieved.

Many countries have legislation that restricts the use of patient data without their informed consent. So, the use of machine learning in healthcare should go hand-in-hand with informing the patient on it and on the data security efforts applied to keep their data safe. 

Representation and Inclusivity

When developing a comprehensive healthcare software solution you should assure its algorithms work effectively on a bright variety of patients. According to PMC, different ethnic and racial groups could have varying responses to pharmaceutical treatment and require special care. Thus, a machine learning solution should be “learned” on sufficiently wide and diverse patient cases and backgrounds. Moreover, it’s recommended to prevent and warn physicians about instances the ML algorithm might lack of research data and probably drive less accurate results, therefore.

Challenges of Machine Learning in the Healthcare Industry

Machine Learning in Healthcare: 12 Real-World Use Cases

1. Lack of Quality Data to Build Precise Algorithms

The results you get from machine learning algorithms depend on the quality of data put into them. Unfortunately, medical data is not always as precise and standardized as it often needs to be. There are gaps in records, inaccuracies in profiles, and other difficulties.

Overall, electronic health records were not built to be used as a data source for an algorithm. So, before you apply a machine learning tool, you’d need to spend time gathering, cleaning, validating, and structuring data for its purposes.

2. Building ML Tools Friendly to Medical Workflow

There are multiple highly specific machine learning use cases that can help with patient diagnostics and treatment. Even if an ML tool works well on paper, it does not necessarily mean that it will be adopted by physicians. Thus, it’s critical to develop and roll-out machine learning tools that would be intuitive and easy to use in the everyday medical workflow. Without the necessary feedback from people who will work with the tool, it will not be as effective, and the professionals will not trust it.

3. Gather Big Teams with Broad Skill Sets in One Place

Besides hands-on healthcare specialists, an effective machine learning development team should include such roles:

  • Business analyst;
  • Data architect;
  • Data engineer;
  • Data scientist;
  • Machine learning expert.

Besides, it’s important to facilitate effective cooperation proceedings in the team so that it’s possible to deliver value and prove the product’s viability at the earliest opportunity. Learn more about effective ML team structure and processes here.

Consider NIX United Your Trusted Partner

NIX United is a software engineering company that can help develop a custom machine learning-based software solution for your healthcare goals on an end-to-end development cycle. Our technical knowledge and experience in the industry will help you reach your goals and bring your vision to life.

Among our successful projects in the area is the HIPAA-compliant app developed to improve patient care quality and engagement. Not only does it help users to manage their medication plan, but it also helps to monitor the patient’s health remotely. If you need a similar solution or any custom healthcare ML tool, contact us right away.

Final Thoughts

Machine learning already has many effective uses in the healthcare industry, but it also has the potential to do a lot more. Besides patient diagnostics and treatment development, it can be used to improve medical care, predict outcomes, and even assist with surgeries.

While machine learning has a lot of potential in the healthcare industry, it also comes with certain challenges, like healthcare data quality, building physician-friendly products, and gathering a huge team of data experts. There also are certain ethical concerns, including patient safety and accountability. Despite certain challenges, the benefits of ML in healthcare outweigh them significantly. If you decide to harness ML for your healthcare organization, contact NIX United to get an expert consultation on this matter and speed up time-to-value.

Author bio: Natalie Tkachenko, Healthcare Software Solutions Consultant at NIX. With more than 3 years of practical experience, Natalia helps CIOs of Medical companies, CTOs and Founders of agile Healthtech startups build technology solutions that make medical practice better and leverage digital transformation to meet patients expectations.