“When I sleep, my eyes are closed at night, my mind is still awake. Thoughts of my past do shatter my present but then the strength of my soul moves me forward”-Shail Saurabh Choksi
The words on this page tell a story that is very close to my heart. I’m going to talk about my father, and talking about him triggers some heavy thoughts and emotions. We’ll get through it. In his late forties, my father had a heart attack. I was 21 years old. A kid. A kid who had never experienced traumatic life events, who panicked at the thought of his father in danger, with no idea how to act, who to call, or what to do. We rushed him to the hospital, doctors acted swiftly, and my father’s life was saved. Moments like that are hard to forget, though, and I still think about it often. I’ll save you the melodrama.
After the chaos wound down and my father was stable, I pulled one of the doctors aside.
“What happened? Why did my dad have a heart attack?” I asked the man.
“Your father has diabetes. The longer your history with diabetes, the more vulnerable you become to other health complications, like heart attacks,” he responded. “He must do a better job of managing his health in the future.”
I decided then and there that I would dedicate my career to helping others in the medical field — I wanted to save lives the way that man had saved my father. At first, I considered being a doctor. Someone with calm nerves and steady hands — a powerful force for the common good. Reality quickly set in, being a below-average student, who probably get negative marking if there was any, couldn’t become a doctor. when I realized I wasn’t a strong enough student to withstand the challenges of medical school and residency. Instead, I got an opportunity to work and study data and analytics. Sixteen years have passed since my father’s heart attack, and I’m now a Data Analytics Consultant, specializing in healthcare.
Since immersing myself in this career field, I’ve developed a strong aptitude for Artificial Intelligence. I understand its strengths, weaknesses, and applications. In the medical field, those applications are powerful. Think about my dad as an example: had I been a doctor, I could have taken emergency action in response to his heart attack, the way his doctor did. I may have even cleaned up his diet and sleep patterns, preventing his heart attack altogether. But if the healthcare system had Artificial Intelligence when he was younger?
It could have prevented diabetes completely.
Before talking about AI, we should focus on why my father — and those like him — get diabetes in the first place. Type 2 diabetes is a chronic condition that says “my body isn’t able to regulate insulin levels very well,” where insulin is a hormone that regulates how sugar moves into your cells. Hereditary factors like your family medical history, your ethnicity, and the place you grew up will make you more or less predisposed to the disease. Lifestyle factors like the food you eat, the quality of your sleep, and how often you exercise either contribute to its development or keep the disease at bay.
Before his retirement in 2018, my father was an educator. He had a passion for teaching, and he dedicated every ounce of his energy toward his career. He wanted his institution to be considered one of the best in the region, and he faced many challenges. The region in which I grew up was dominated by powerful political parties, many of whom had strong ties to the education system. Because of the power they held, teachers were required to follow their instructions to the letter — and often to a fault. If anyone disagreed with their methods, they were going to have to fight.
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And that’s exactly what my father did. Bravely.
Because of this constant conflict, he was consistently stressed and his temper was volatile. He worked long into the night and often skipped meals. When he did sleep, it was only a few hours. When he did eat, it wasn’t healthy. I’m proud of my father, and I’m proud of his accomplishments — his institution grew to be incredibly well-respected, and he was the best teacher he could possibly be for his students. All of this came at the cost of his health though and led to his diagnosis with Type 2 Diabetes and eventual heart attack.
So the picture has been painted: his lifestyle wasn’t healthy, and it ultimately hurt him. But where was his doctor during all of this? Shouldn’t he have helped?
My father did have a primary care physician, and he saw him regularly. After his T2D diagnosis, we had several conversations about those doctor visits. If he were leading such an unhealthy lifestyle, did his doctor really have no signs that he was heading toward chronic health problems?
Eventually, he told me that he developed low back pain throughout the years. It gradually became worse and worse, and he was diagnosed with diabetes fairly shortly after it began (within a year or so). I remember the conversation clearly:
“Dad, what do you mean? That was an obvious warning sign of Type 2 Diabetes.”
He told me the symptoms just weren’t chronic enough. When he developed back pain, his doctor simply focused on treating the back pain. He didn’t take a step back and evaluate the full picture — high stress, poor diet, low exercise, limited sleep, and now chronic back pain — and use it as an indicator of an upcoming health crisis.
I’m not angry with his doctor for making a mistake — back pain is incredibly common among people who sit for long periods of time. But his problems still could have been prevented. His physician was clearly able to see the trees around him, but never took a step back to realize he was in a forest.
That’s where Artificial Intelligence can help.
Type 2 Diabetes is an epidemic. According to the CDC, nearly one in every 10 Americans (34 million people) have the disease, with 90–95% of them being adults. The vast majority of those are over the age of 45. If warning signs of Type 2 Diabetes are caught earlier, these people stand a fighting chance. They’ll be able to understand their risk factors and change their behavior sooner. A solution which enables this would save thousands of lives each year — and a solution rooted in Artificial Intelligence looks more and more obvious by the day.
Think about Artificial Intelligence like a big brain. Every day, it’s constantly learning more about you. It’s learning about your genes, your diet, your exercise and sleep patterns, the list goes on and on. Simultaneously, it’s learning about different diseases by pulling external data like medical literature, research, and peer outcomes. It then develops a strong understanding of your personal risks, and alerts you when your habits are drifting in the wrong direction. As my father’s career progressed and he routinely saw his primary care physician, they could have learned how his lifestyle choices were interacting with his genetic predisposition to the disease, and they could have acted swiftly to make changes much earlier in his life.
It’s no secret that healthcare is expensive, but the irony is that we underinvest in preventing problems and over-invest in solving the issues they cause, making it more expensive than it needs to be. Surgery, emergency procedures, and medication to manage lifelong illnesses are entirely avoidable in many cases, and Artificial Intelligence can help with that. People will always need doctors. People will always need primary care physicians. The more we invest in improving the quality of primary care and the ability of those physicians to detect potential health issues, the healthier people will become and the more we’ll see healthcare costs go down.
From Type-2 Diabetes to Influenza, the list of preventable illnesses is long. Harnessing the power of Artificial Intelligence in a primary care setting is our best chance at navigating those murky waters, and keeping people healthy for years to come.