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News - August 17, 2021

This company is pushing the boundaries in healthcare with AI

If you’ve visited a hospital in the last few years, chances are that you may have benefitted from artificial intelligence without even realizing it.

AI is being implemented more and more in hospitals around the world today. If you recently went in for a surgery, it’s likely that the surgeon operating on you was using surgical instruments guided by AI. If you need to have a scan done, you could get your results back in just a couple of days with the help of AI instead of having to wait an entire week, says Shaoting Zhang, vice president and deputy head of research at SenseTime, a leading AI software platform company.

Accelerating innovation in healthcare

AI is a powerful tool within clinical practice, Zhang adds.

He highlights the case of a hospital in Shanghai, China. The pathology department of Ruijin Hospital traditionally used microscope to analyse sections. SenseTime digitized these sections and applied image analysis algorithms to aid doctors and pathologists in screening out 80% to 90% of healthy cases that did not require special attention, freeing them up to focus on abnormal or borderline ones.

According to Zhang, China currently has about 20,000 pathologists but needs at least 80,000 more, and AI could help bridge that gap.
The use cases in the field for areas such as administration or virtual assistants are also on the rise. The technology is even being applied to hardware, with devices like an AI bionic pancreas being developed and tested to help patients with diabetes.

But AI isn’t just beneficial for enhancing doctors’ workflows. In countries or regions like China and Southeast Asia, where a large chunk of the population lives in rural areas, AI helps compensate for a lack of access to medical facilities. Typically, patients who need high quality healthcare would have to travel to big cities like Shanghai or Beijing, where the top hospitals are, says Zhang.

“Even though we can always buy scanners and medical devices, we cannot produce [experienced] doctors quickly,” explains Zhang. AI can empower inexperienced doctors in rural areas to diagnose patients, which Zhang sees as a “democratization of high quality healthcare.”

Not only does the technology offer greater access to quality healthcare, it also helps shrink waiting time and travel expenses for patients, making it more convenient and affordable for them, Zhang adds.

Beyond this, SenseTime has also partnered with global pharmaceutical companies and genomics companies to expedite drug discovery processes and conduct genome analysis using AI.

An intelligent work in progress

While the technology is a trailblazer in the healthcare industry, there are some fundamental issues in using AI that still need to be ironed out.

One issue is the “long-tail problem,” Zhang says. Even though AI is a powerful tool on its own, it still needs data to point it in the right direction. In essence, this means that common health problems tend to get more attention than smaller, rarer diseases due to lower data availability.

To overcome this obstacle, SenseTime uses a universal AI infrastructure to produce AI algorithms in large scale. This advancement allows SenseTime to handle double or even triple the workload of other companies in the field, says Zhang.

Another challenge with using AI is obtaining domain knowledge about doctors’ workflows. To solve this problem, SenseTime works closely with hospitals when developing its software.

At the same time, it’s important to stick to regulations, and SenseTime has worked closely with medical device authorities like the National Medical Products Administration in China and got the CE mark from the British Standards Institution (BSI) to ensure compliance with safety standards.

Backing all this up are SenseTime’s scientists, product managers, and a global research and development team of more than 3,000 personnel, including over 40 professors and 300 doctorate degree holders.

Enhancing AI for the future

Despite the paradigm shift that the technology can bring to the industry going forward, Zhang notes that AI is still far away from being fully autonomous in the healthcare domain. He likens the technology to a doctor’s assistant rather than an independent replacement for physicians. It also can’t replace the compassionate role that a human doctor plays when it comes to highly personal issues, he adds.

SenseTime is also committed to its goal of sustainable and responsible development of AI technology and even has its own AI ethics committee. Earlier last year, the company also wrote a white paper called the “Code of Ethics for AI Sustainable Development,” which was included in the “Resource Guide on Artificial Intelligence Strategies” released by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

For now, SenseTime is focused on solving the “last-mile problem” of getting even higher accuracy within limited computational time.

“Pushing for an algorithm with 80% or 90% accuracy is not that hard,” says Zhang. “However, we need to push from 90% to 99% or even 99.9%.”

The company is also looking to expand its SenseCare Smart Health Platform, an AI and one-stop service for doctors with AI modules covering 13 body parts and organs at present. SenseTime intends to develop more AI modules that cover different diseases and data modalities to meet medical experts’ clinical requirements.

In July, SenseTime launched its universal AI infrastructure called SenseCore, which allows the company to more easily develop complicated models capable of handling more challenging tasks.

With these steps, SenseTime hopes to achieve widespread democratization of healthcare using a technology that it predicts will “never fatigue, never get tired, and never forget.”

SenseTime is a leading AI software platform company with a wide range of products, including applications for the healthcare industry. The firm was founded in 2014 by a team of world-class scientists at the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s Multimedia Lab, which was named among the world’s top 10 AI pioneer laboratories at Nvidia’s Technology Conference in 2016.

Its SenseCare Smart Health Platform has received wide acclaim from users and has been implemented at many Class-A tertiary hospitals and industry-leading medical institutions.