The evolution of modern society has been intertwined with successive industrial revolutions. In the first industrial revolution, the spread of the steam engine began to replace human and animal labor. In the second industrial revolution, the assembly line enabled mass production and the increasingly simple manufacture of increasingly complex things. And in the third industrial revolution, people were no longer needed alongside the assembly line, as automation replaced the use of robotic arms.
Today, we are living in the age of the fourth industrial revolution. This industrial revolution is all about digitalization. Not only in manufacturing, but also in services, the human factor is increasingly being eliminated. Think about it: when you order something, you don’t have to contact a single human being. We choose the product we want, we pay, and a few days later our parcel is waiting on our doorstep.
Every industrial revolution has ultimately led to efficiency gains. The desire for efficiency has created the modern economy and with-it modern society, of which the modern state as regulator and provider has inevitably become a part and a decisive player. At the same time, the modern state has not been able to keep pace with the industrial revolution. This can be easily seen in our age of digitalization.
Digitizing Society, Lagging Public Health Service
Society is based on interactions between people. Traditionally, interactions have been analogue, but with the development of telecommunications and digitalization, these interactions have moved into the virtual space. Just think how many times a day we communicate with others in writing over the internet or by telephone.
Market players have also been quick to realize this, as digitalization allows them to reduce costs, increase efficiency and deliver an increasingly personalised customer experience. We are surrounded by these phenomena, but there are still exceptions, and these are services provided by the state. While much of the administration can now be done online, there are public sectors where there is little or no digitization of the customer facing side of the business.
One such sector is public health, where doctors spend most of their time on administration rather than examining patients. This is a serious problem, especially when you consider that there are fewer and fewer doctors globally, with around 10 million shortages in the health system by 2030.
At the same time, as the human population grows and third world countries gradually catch up, the need for a skilled health workforce is increasing. In addition, the pandemic caused by COVID-19 has highlighted the vulnerability of the health system even in developed countries and the problems that can arise when a large number of patients flood into the system in an extreme situation.
Artificial Intelligence Is Already Providing Solutions
But is there a way to simultaneously improve public health performance, reduce the global shortage of doctors and reduce exposure to fluctuating quality of public health care?
The answer to this question is very much to marketize health care, but this would be a lengthy process in countries where health care is predominantly in public hands. Furthermore, this answer often ignores the transitional periods in which the poorer but working sections of society simply do not earn enough more, even with falling tax burdens, to pay for private health care, as the market needs time to equalize and health care providers need time to set reasonable prices for consumers.
But there is another answer. And that is technological advances and the use of artificial intelligence, which could bring significant and rapid changes to health services in increasingly digital societies. There are two sides to this. On the service provider side, AI has the potential to reduce the administrative burden on doctors and, on the other hand, to speed up the everyday medical work of diagnosing, drawing up treatment plans and prescribing the right medicines, and detecting diseases and disorders by analyzing medical histories.
On the client side, this technology will speed up and reduce the cost of accessing professional care, as an AI-based technology will make the testing process more cost-effective. A good example is that while the average dermatologist can diagnose and sign off 4 patients in an hour using traditional methods, this number has increased tenfold to 40 patients with the help of AI, which acts as a digital assistant.
Another client-side benefit is that some of the tests can be performed from home using smart devices, making them faster and more personalised, and reducing asymmetry between doctors and patients.
Artificial intelligence could digitise a significant part of everyday healthcare, which would also be much better suited to the habits and habitus of a digital society than the current slow and old-fashioned systems.
New Perspectives for Public Health
There are many businesses that are incorporating new technologies into their services, such as the recent addition to Microsoft’s products Open AI. There are more and more AI based platforms for word processing or image generation, but there are an increasing number of sectors that are experimenting with AI solutions. One such company that not only experiment but implement AI is based In Hungary. AIP Labs’ digital dermatology, AIP Derm, is already up and running and is about to start operations in Slovakia and, soon in Spain.
Their activities are a model, providing a low-cost healthcare service directly accessible to all, while complying with government regulations and being much more efficient than traditional care. The company is also developing a number of other AI-driven healthcare systems which, based on experience to date, have the potential to be rolled out not only in the private sector but also in public healthcare.
It is clear that public healthcare can neither be eliminated nor made profitable. But it can be more efficient and cheaper. It is worth playing with the idea of what would happen if a state bought the AIP Labs system and made it a service subsidised by social security.
In the short term, this would increase the efficiency of the health system by reducing the administrative burden and allowing more patients to be treated more efficiently. It would also reduce the workload and costs associated with running physical care. In the long term, the aggregation of health data managed by AI could help with prevention, make screening more efficient and personalised, without having to face a shortage of doctors or resources on a daily basis. All in all, it would improve public health care and thus make society healthier and more productive, opening up new perspectives for a country.
The question arises: why does a state not move in this direction?