Artificial Intelligence (AI) in Addiction Treatment Blog Series – Part 1: Introduction to AI
In late 2022 our Heartland House team published a blog about a game-changing use of technology in addiction treatment: telehealth. In the two plus years since, telehealth has become second nature as a mode for connecting patients with practitioners. As this signal change in healthcare delivery was taking place, the tech world was simultaneously achieving advancements that are making artificial intelligence (AI) the most impactful modern development to our entire way of life. This impact extends to the diagnosis and treatment of substance use disorders (SUD).
AI is defined as the ability of a digital computer or computer-controlled robot to perform tasks commonly associated with intelligent beings, including intellectual processes such as the ability to reason, discover meaning, generalize, or learn from past experience. We know that computers can be programmed to successfully complete highly complex tasks like modeling weather patterns, simulating battlefield strategies and playing chess but that there are still human characteristics such as creativity, empathy, compassion and even precise hand-eye coordination that AI has not achieved. On the other hand, programs have been developed that allow computers to perform increasingly complex tasks including as search engines, voice and handwriting recognition, and medical diagnosis.
Much has been written about what AI can and cannot do, along with the positive and negative potential of AI in myriad aspects of our lives. There is general agreement that AI has brought about higher productivity such as in the form of manufacturing robots, smart assistants and online banking; and smart decision-making, as AI can serve to identify and analyze trends to forecast anything from when a machine will need maintenance to the income potential of a particular financial decision. Businesses and the public stand to reap the benefits of AI. For our purposes at Heartland House, we are focusing on how AI can impact the future of healthcare and, specifically, the treatment of Substance Use Disorder (SUD).
AI provides several benefits to the practice of health care, both for the professional and the patient. Here are some of the most prominent examples:
- Assessment of medical images from X-rays and MRIs to spot abnormalities;
- Preliminary diagnosis of disorders;
- Analysis of data from remote medical devices such as heart rate or blood sugar level monitors, followed by alerting the patient of an issue and/or adjusting an input such as insulin flow;
- Virtual nursing assistants that can provide quick answers to simple patient questions.
In a follow-up blog, we will delve into examples of AI in SUD treatment. We at Heartland House are very much interested in how any technological advancement can help us do our job in the most effective, patient-centered manner, while understanding the limitations of every tool at our disposal.