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There are many different types of smart machines. Most people are more familiar with the term “artificial intelligence,” or building human-like intelligence in autonomous technology. However, “augmented intelligence,” which is information technology that augments human intelligence, is progressing rapidly and is more likely to transform healthcare in the near future. One example is IBM Watson Health, which uses cognitive computing to “illuminate aspects of our world that were previously invisible patterns and insight in unstructured data, in particular—allowing us to make more informed decisions about more consequential matters.”

IBM Watson Health has multiple potential applications in healthcare, such as collecting and synthesizing data to help speed the clinical trial process or to help researchers make decisions related to next year’s flu vaccine. The potential for IBM Watson Health and other augmented intelligence in assisting with the diagnosis and management of medical conditions has immediate implications for the future of healthcare communications.

One approach with both branded and unbranded communications has been to help patients and physicians identify signs and symptoms and accurately diagnose various health conditions. Imagine a scenario where a physician could access all of the information about a patient, including their medical history and data from wearable or at-home diagnostics, as well as efficiently review patient symptoms in light of data from clinical studies, other patient health records, medical journals, textbooks and professional guidelines via one online portal. This is one of the goals of IBM Watson Health. The use of augmented intelligence in this scenario would significantly increase rates of accurate diagnoses.

Another cornerstone of many communications initiatives is to provide support and resources to patients in helping them manage chronic medical conditions. IBM Watson Health is also looking at other needs of patients, such as nutrition and exercise. In this scenario, augmented intelligence is helping identify opportunities to provide tailored patient programs and information to support patients in their efforts to make healthy decisions.

Do either of these scenarios mean we should completely change or scale back our communications to patients, physicians, advocates and media? Absolutely not. First, augmented intelligence still has a way to go to become a universally effective and adopted technology. Second, there will always be a role for healthcare communications. Third, heightened awareness and increased education increases the speed at which conditions are diagnosed, managed and treated, and will always be an essential part of encouraging patients to speak to their healthcare providers and be more active stewards in managing their own health. With the arrival of augmented intelligence, we have the opportunity to more effectively reach people through tailored communications that educate and motivate individuals to talk to their healthcare provider, manage their health conditions, and ultimately, help them live healthier lives.

 

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