China's hospitals turn to AI to make up for doctor shortage

AI could help make doctors' workload more manageable.

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We already use AI in medicine to examine medical scans and spot signs of diabetes, among other applications. In China, though, artificial intelligence can do more than just assist medical professionals: it can help alleviate the country's doctor shortage. A hospital in Beijing, for instance, will start running all its lung scans through an algorithm that can expedite the screening process starting next month. The software was developed by a Beijing-based startup called PereDoc, and it can quickly spot nodules and other early signs of lung diseases.

According to MIT's Technology Review, China has been beefing up its health care facilities with AI tools as part of its nationwide AI push, especially since there are only 1.5 doctors for every 1,000 people in the country, compared with 2.5 for every thousand in the US. A recent IDC report even said that China's market for AI health care services could be as big as $930 million by 2022. That China has a bigger need for AI tools and has looser restrictions will likely help make that a reality. In fact, local researchers are already developing various AI tools for medicine, including one that can design dentures and another that can analyze ultrasound data to detect blood clots caused by lymphoma treatment.

As for Peredoc, it developed and continues to refine its software with help from 180 hospitals that serve as its research collaborators. The Beijing hospital that will start feeding its lung scans to Peredoc's software next month treats about 10,000 outpatients every single day. With that many patients, the doctors don't have time to examine every scan thoroughly -- the algorithm will not only ensure that they don't miss a thing, but also lighten their load. Peredoc has already installed its software in 20 hospitals in China, but if most hospitals have a similar situation to the one in Beijing, then it will probably make its way to more in the future.

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