Assistive Intelligence: Championing Palliative Care With Humanity

Shelly Dutton

If we have learned anything from the last couple of years, it’s most likely how powerful our curiosity and imagination; diverse ways of thinking, and ability to learn, collaborate, and respond become with digital technology. Every day, we face a world of unpredictability, continuous evolution, and accelerated momentum. And at the center of it all, assistive intelligence, such as artificial intelligence, is helping us make sense of it all.

Nowhere is this reality truer than in palliative care – which covers everything from pain management and relief to counseling end-of-life treatment preferences and recording them in a living will. Although it’s a medical service that everyone eventually needs, people put so little thought into their palliative care that, as soon a terminal diagnosis is given, a whirlwind of confusion and misunderstanding sets in.

Fortunately, this cloud of chaos is beginning to dissipate as researchers discover more data-driven, intelligent ways to help patients navigate their quality of life on their terms.

Big Data innovation brings dignity and humanity

According to the United Nations’ World Health Organization (WHO), access to palliative care is an ethical imperative for all people, regardless of physical, psychosocial, spiritual conditions as well as any potential for a cure. The organization reports that the integration of palliative care and primary healthcare may improve patient well-being and reduce healthcare costs while protecting patients and their families from burdensome financial debt.

Despite the overwhelming evidence of the benefits of palliative care, most healthcare providers are already too overwhelmed with their primary-care responsibilities to accept such a significant undertaking. In fact, this level of medical care is typically reserved for patients displaying obvious signs of dying.

However, with the assistance of artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms, researchers are finding new opportunities to rethink that routine by giving palliative care physicians the insight necessary to identify and reach out to patients proactively. For example, a team at Stanford University is building a predictive model based on operational data routinely collected in healthcare settings to predict individual patient mortality, as an alternative to using disease- or demographic-specific assessments.

By presenting a flexible, fast approach to picking, sorting, and analyzing data, AI innovations help caregivers make more informed care recommendations, match mainstream and trial treatments to patient needs, and forecast future prognosis and quality of life. This approach not only provides physical comfort during an otherwise harrowing time but also helps patients create a life that enriches the mental and spiritual well-being of themselves and their loved ones.

Assistive intelligence puts the needs of the patient first

Medical application of intelligent technologies may seem abstract and removed from today’s palliative care experience. However, we shouldn’t forget the pace, power, and potential of data-driven technologies. Serving as the best source of medical data, patients are securely adding to a growing repository of critical learnings such as symptoms and advancement of chronic diseases, treatment results, care preferences, and successes of care professionals who treat them.

“Patients expect to have access to their own health data and to be involved in making decisions about their healthcare,” says Dominik Bertram, vice president of software engineering for SAP Health at SAP. “We can turn these expectations to our collective benefit by designing systems that, by improving data access, make all of their interactions with healthcare easy for them, and allow for fully integrated case management.”

And for patients, such assistive intelligence means a level of medical care that injects the dignity and humanity they demand to live out their best-possible lives on their terms.

Discover the opportunities artificial intelligence and machine learning bring to personalized patient care. Read the article, “Stitching Up Your Healthcare Data,” from the Digitalist Magazine, executive quarterly edition.