Coronavirus opens door for expanded use of artificial intelligence at hospitals

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The Royal Bolton Hospital is among a growing number of health-care facilities around the world that are turning to AI to help manage the coronavirus pandemic. Many are using such technologies for the first time under the pressure of staff shortages and overwhelming patient loads. In parallel, dozens of AI firms have developed new software or revamped existing tools, hoping to cash in by cultivating new client relationships that will continue after the crisis is over.

The pandemic, in other words, has turned into a gateway for AI adoption in health care—bringing both opportunity and risk. On the one hand, it is pushing doctors and hospitals to fast-track promising new technologies. On the other, this accelerated process could allow unvetted tools to bypass regulatory processes, putting patients in harm’s way.

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Before the pandemic, health-care AI was already a booming area of research. Deep learning, in particular, has demonstrated impressive results for analyzing medical images to identify diseases like breast and lung cancer or glaucoma at least as accurately as human specialists. …

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But there have been significant obstacles to translating that research into real-world applications. Privacy concerns make it challenging to collect enough data for training algorithms; issues related to bias and generalizability make regulators cautious to grant approvals.

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