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2019-04-18 05:15:08

SHANGHAI — Companies at this week’s international technology expo in Shanghai are banking on artificial intelligence playing a greater role in China’s hospitals.

While some AI technologies assist doctors in setting treatment plans for patients, others are designed to give patients a better overall hospital experience, providing quicker access to preliminary diagnoses and alleviating some of the burden on overworked hospital staff.

“A lot of hospital work — such as prechecks, moving medical equipment around, filling prescriptions at pharmacies, and some surgical procedures — can be performed by AI,” said Bruce Wang, the chief strategy officer of Beijing Orion Star Technology Co. Ltd.

“There’s a huge market for the application of AI in the health care sector,” he told Sixth Tone Thursday at the annual China (Shanghai) International Technology Fair, where the latest in AI technology and smart service robots are being exhibited.

Wang says his company’s service robots, which have been introduced at hospitals in the eastern cities of Shanghai and Jingdezhen, are helping patients find the right departments to visit and helping doctors answer some of the questions they most frequently encounter.

In 2017, China’s “AI health market” was valued at 13.65 billion yuan ($2 billion); last year, that estimation jumped to 21 billion yuan.

Over the weekend, a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) hospital in Shanghai announced a project whereby AI technologies would be used to provide initial diagnoses — such as whether a patient has diabetes, hypertension, or any of around 30 other chronic conditions or diseases — in just two minutes. The technology’s accuracy rate is over 97 percent, according to the hospital.

Beijing-based medical technology company Airdoc, which developed the diagnostic system, explained that an abundance of physiological indicators can be gleaned just from examining the human eye.

“Hundreds of diseases have corresponding manifestations on the retina, including hypertension, diabetes, brain tumors, Parkinson’s, and leukemia,” Airdoc’s publicity office told Sixth Tone Thursday via text message. “This kind of scanning is easy, affordable, noninvasive, and effective.”

The company’s AI learns from doctors’ experiences and draws conclusions from comparing millions of retinal images. But a lack of access to comprehensive medical data could be hindering the wider application of AI in China’s health care sector, according to Wang.

“At the moment, hospitals tend to keep their clinical data in-house,” he said. “AI can only become more engaged in the diagnostic and treatment-planning stages once there’s a shared-data platform with participation from all hospitals.”

Editor: David Paulk.

(Header image: Children test out a robot used to make preliminary diagnoses at the World Health Expo in Wuhan, Hubei province, April 7, 2019. Chu Lin/IC)