Using artificial intelligence in pharma industry

For A Better Health Outcome: Bringing together AI and Physicians for an Augmented Intelligence

By Daniel  Diezi  & Stefan Weiß &

The pharma industry has a decisive role in the ongoing digitalization process, being one of the main drivers of health innovation.

By using Artificial Intelligence (AI) wisely and in close cooperation with doctors and patients, the industry can help patients and their health much better: It brings the different players in the healthcare sector closer together – and also enables physicians to put a stronger focus on “talking medicine”.

Insight in brief

  • Diagnoses by physicians can be biased leading to medical procedures that are wrong or not necessary at all.
  • Due to false incentives in our healthcare system physicians are having less time for the individual patient.
  • A smart combination of artificial intelligence and physicians could help with both challenges and lead to a better health outcome.

Why is that needed? Let’s look at two examples: First, the diagnosis of the Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) does not have much reliability. Currently, the same patient is diagnosed differently by different doctors. Furthermore, the diagnoses are often biased. Boys are diagnosed with ADHD up to twice more often than girls. Secondly, studies show that asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) are often misdiagnosed; with COPD that can happen in up to 73% of the cases. Both diseases, asthma and COPD, show close similarities with regard to their symptoms, which makes it difficult for physicians to make a reliable diagnosis. These are just two examples of false diagnoses. Many medical procedures are not the correct ones or are not necessary at all – and this is just due to the patient’s condition not being understood correctly. 

False incentives lead to physicians having less time for the individual patient

Furthermore, the healthcare system has misguided incentives which make the physician focus increasingly on the economic goals of a hospital and thus push a patient’s health into the background. Physicians also face an increasing amount of documentation work, which is for instance required for any kind of reimbursement from the health insurance companies. Studies found that physicians spend almost half their time in their office, working on filling out forms and other desk work. Ironically, this means that while healthcare costs keep increasing, physicians spend less time with their patients.

Empathy and an understanding of the patient as well as his personal history are a physician’s or a human physician’s particular strengths. A disease can never be considered independently of a person’s medical history. With ADHD , for example, questions about traumatic experiences, how the patient’s birth took place or what kind of relationship he had with his parents or teachers must also be taken into account. This context, however, has to be established by the physician – no diagnosis device or AI algorithm can do this so far. It requires a personal communication between doctor and patient, empathy as well as the wish to really understand the patient. All these elements require a lot of the doctor’s time.

Why is Artificial Intelligence needed?

We have to combine the strengths of computers and of people. AI is fast, accurate but unfeeling. Humans are slow and inaccurate – but they can be empathic. Since machines will soon be able to tackle many tasks better than humans, those humans should concentrate on the advantage that they have: They should remember to be more human. For physicians, that means conducting conversations with patients in order to understand their personal therapy experiences and to determine the next steps. The patient should help with that as far as possible, he should be allowed the final decisions over his own treatment. AI can support diagnostic decisions by providing an overall view on a patient’s data, thereby also helping to avoid errors like a misdiagnosis or unnecessary procedures. It might also be consulted for recommending a suitable treatment.

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Involving doctors and patients – achieving a better health outcome

AI is able to learn from cases, from data and medical literature. Though, the increase of multimorbidity leads to combinations of diseases that haven’t been studied or emerged enough for an algorithm to be trained sufficiently for them. Additionally, the human biology as a whole is too complex for AI to be the simple solution – nevertheless, the combination of doctors and AI is very promising.

AI can help patients get a better health outcome – that is what makes it so valuable for them and that’s why we need to bring together AI and physicians. The result of this combination is Augmented Intelligence. This enhanced form of intelligence does not replace humans, but it can ensure that doctors and patients benefit from the combination of data and human intelligence with regard to any decision-making. The pharmaceutical industry has the opportunity to take a leading role in this process, offering digital solutions, e.g. diagnosis apps – or companion apps for doctors and patients that help them to build a trusting relationship. Digitalization in healthcare will only be successful if we involve doctors and patient in the whole process.

Daniel Diezi

Daniel  Diezi 

Director Business Development & Head Health Industries  
Contact person for Switzerland +41 31 561 3946 

When Daniel Diezi joined Zühlke in 2016, he already had acquired more than 12 years of global healthcare experience and led digital transformation projects internationally. As advisory board member of a digital health think-tank, the Swiss MedTech Association and as chairman of the MedTech & Pharma platform, he takes a leading role in shaping the future of health.

Stefan Weiß

Stefan Weiß

Lead Business Consultant
Contact person for Germany +49 6196 777 54 426

Dr. Stefan Weiss is Lead Business Innovation Consultant at the Zühlke Group and has a broad background in Neuroscience combined with a profound expertise in economics and innovation management. Before joining Zühlke, Stefan shaped the future of Healthcare and Life Sciences at the Innovation Center of Merck KGaA. He is passionate about the digitalization of the Pharma- and MedTech Industry with innovative solutions and business models by applying his scientific and economic expertise. At Zühlke, he extends technical excellence with domain-specific insights and thereby strengthens the partnerships with Pharma- and MedTech customers