Have you seen Hasan Minaj’s episode of #PatriotAct on obesity?When you are obese, your chances of getting a stroke are 65% higher, chances of having heart disease are 50% higher, and if that weren’t enough, you’re 20 times more likely to contract Type 2 Diabetes. Yikes.
That episode of Patriot Act was mainly focused on food, and didn’t look as critically at other contributing factors to developing chronic illnesses like obesity. Beyond diet, your lifestyle (sleep quality, amount of exercise, and when you eat) play a huge role in developing these problems. Likewise, there are hereditary traits that play an important role. Although this episode of Patriot Act was incredibly important, it sort of missed an opportunity to really educate people. Food quality is a problem, but for most people, it isn’t going to change much. This is due to many factors, such as a rising global population. Instead, we can look critically at lifestyle habits and hereditary factors that influence chronic illnesses. There’s more within our control than we realize.
Chronic illnesses do not happen overnight; instead they start with basic symptoms and gradually get worse and worse. Eventually, they develop into a chronic condition, like diabetes. The challenge is taking those basic symptoms (like headaches, mild back pain, etc.) and understanding that they might imply you’re beginning to develop a related lifelong problem — this is often missed, and we focus on treating the symptom itself rather than stepping back to understand what it’s telling us. Additionally, there are genetic factors that can be warning signs, such as a family member developing a chronic illness.
But how can we be sure this means we’re at a high risk as well?
If it’s in our gene pool, when should we really start worrying about obesity? And when should we start worrying about associated chronic conditions like diabetes? Should children change their lifestyle factors from the time they’re little? Should we take every possible indicator of chronic illness as a warning? I have seen people with frequent urination who don’t have diabetes — even though it is a symptom. And every headache is not an indicator of heart disease in your forties. See my point?
So how do we know when and where problems with our health are beginning, when different indicators may mean different things?
One solution is Artificial Intelligence, specifically when it’s incorporated into primary care.
AI has the power to predict risk of chronic conditions, such as heart failure and Type 2 Diabetes. If AI is integrated into the primary care model for physicians worldwide, your individual risk (early symptoms, your hereditary disposition, your diet/sleep/exercise habits) can all be evaluated properly and quickly. This means if you have those early warning signs like headaches and back pain, AI can quickly detect if you’re starting to show signs of chronic illness.
Right now, Primary Care is considered “routine” — we go once or twice per year for a checkup, and typically we’re feeling healthy. We don’t go to our PCP for headaches or back pain. At least I don’t. As Indians, we depend on tumeric for everything. Even for making babies. For Indians, Tumeric is the God of treating disease: a one-size-fits-all medication.
So, we don’t go to the doctor for these little problems that might be indicators of bigger problems. Therefore, we need a way for doctors to know when we’re experiencing these little problems. AI needs to connect healthy people living their day to day lives with their primary care physicians.
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Here’s how it would work: as soon as symptoms like headaches and back pain appear, AI would compare that with other chronic patients in the same age group, and calculate risk based on sleep patterns, diet, and exercise habits. It would also factor in family history to paint a picture of overall risk for chronic illness, and send the information to your physician in real-time. Once the physician is alerted with this new information, they can schedule an appointment right away. This solves the problem of unknown chronic health conditions. This is early intervention.
In a physician’s office, AI would collect information being sent from each patient. Many physicians see 100+ patients per day, so this would quickly build a robust database of people, conditions, age, and risk for chronic illness. AI would then compare each individual’s symptoms with the information in this database, while also factoring in medical literature, research findings, peer findings, and compute an overall risk score for each patient. The physician would then use that score to drive the action they take next.
As humans continue to find creative ways to connect themselves with the internet, there will be more and more creative ways in which AI can pull data from each person, making their predictions and calculations more and more accurate. For example, AI could scan a patient’s social media accounts for overall time spent on social media, predicting how sedentary their lifestyle is. It can also look for pictures of food to judge the quality and frequency of a patient’s meals. The possibilities are numerous, and the accuracy of this information is only going to improve as time goes on.
Whether this is a perfect model isn’t really my point: my point is that primary care needs to change. It’s the first point of contact; it’s what determines if you’ll live a healthy and painless day-to-day life, or if the onset of chronic illnesses will slowly make life more and more painful, more and more challenging. It’s what determines if you’re at risk of sudden health problems like heart failure. We have the technology, and we have the need. We simply need to make it happen.