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Unlocking the Mind of Dr. Piyalitt Ittichaiwong: The Physician-Student-Visionary Determined to Revolutionize Thai Healthcare with World-Class Medical AI

Unlocking the Mind of Dr. Piyalitt Ittichaiwong: The Physician-Student-Visionary Determined to Revolutionize Thai Healthcare with World-Class Medical AI

In an era of rapid technological advancement, imagine if doctors, nurses, and medical professionals could harness the power of AI to treat patients. Diseases that once required lengthy diagnoses could be treated more accurately and efficiently than ever before. The impact on humanity would be profound.

While the adoption of AI in Thai healthcare is still limited, one doctor is determined to change that. Meet Dr. Piyalitt Ittichaiwong, a lecturer at Siriraj Hospital and the founder of PreceptorAI, a technology platform designed to reform the industry.

What drives his passion for AI? And can it truly revolutionize Thai healthcare? Let's find out in this interview.

A Doctor's Determination to Improve Quality of Life for Physicians

Dr. Piyalitt shares that he originally graduated with a medical degree from Siriraj Hospital at Mahidol University, aspiring to become a hematologist.

However, during his residency at Samut Prakan Hospital, he experienced the grueling reality of working long hours, often across days and nights. Provincial hospitals have significantly fewer doctors compared to the total number of patients.

"The demand for doctors in the labor market increases every year. No matter how much we increase the supply, it's never enough. Moreover, doctors in provincial or smaller hospitals have an even greater workload. The doctor-to-patient ratio is much lower than in Bangkok. Accelerating doctor production may help somewhat, but the number of doctors in the public sector is also declining at a higher rate, making it insufficient for treating patients," Dr. Piyalitt emphasizes.

He stresses that during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, working conditions for doctors were at their worst. It's understandable why so many doctors are leaving the public sector.

"Sometimes I had to be on call for 32 hours straight. Those were quite terrible incidents. When doctors are on duty for many hours, treating patients continuously, it's inevitable to feel dizzy at times. We can never provide good treatment under those circumstances. That's when I started thinking about what could help doctors work better with the same number of medical personnel. I discovered that using AI to assist doctors could be the answer."

"It made me realize that if I continued working the same way, I might only be able to treat around 10,000 people in my lifetime, or at most 100,000. But if I incorporate technology and AI, I could help many times more people. That was the turning point when I switched from applying for the Siriraj Navamaytee Scholarship or the Physician-Researcher Scholarship to study hematology, to applying for a scholarship to pursue a master's and doctoral degree in Medical AI in the UK," the scholar-doctor explains.

Technology Must Simplify Complexity for Ease of Use

Apart from the insufficient number of doctors, another common problem Dr. Piyalitt encounters is having to do non-medical tasks, such as dealing with various documents. Patient information documents, in particular, are complicated, chaotic, and complex. Often, data must be filled out on paper first before being entered into the computer system, wasting valuable time.

Sometimes, using LINE to send patient information isn't as beneficial as it should be. For example, during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Hospitel had to be set up to accommodate a large number of patients. Patients had to send their data, such as oxygen levels every 4 hours, to the medical and nursing teams, amounting to hundreds of messages. This information then had to be re-entered into documents.

Moreover, data in LINE can easily get lost, such as opening a message and forgetting to note it down. It's another frustrating problem that slows down work, making an already exhausting job even more tiring.

Dr. Piyalitt found a solution by creating AI in collaboration with Prof. Teerawit Wiraiprasitporn from VISTEC, the Medensy team led by Dr. Sandee Rattanasumruk, and with support from private companies such as PTT and AWS. The team developed an AI system to monitor oxygen levels and heart rates, significantly reducing the daily workload.

When data is in the right place, doctors can immediately determine which patients need urgent treatment, rather than checking messages in LINE sequentially. This could lead to some critical patients being overlooked.

"This is a simple example of how AI can instantly elevate the public health sector. It even led to publishing research in leading international journals," Dr. Piyalitt illustrates.

AI Awareness in Thailand: Low but Hopeful

As mentioned, Dr. Piyalitt is currently studying Medical AI in the UK. His journey across the ocean has shown him how much more technologically aware people are in foreign lands compared to Thailand.

"In the UK, they believe that if something can be applied reliably, there will be systems in place and extensive research to build upon it. Moreover, AI lessons are incorporated into the curriculum for medical students here, whereas in Thailand, there is no official AI course yet."

"We have to accept that AI is getting closer to us and has already started playing a role in other fields like finance."

Another thing Dr. Piyalitt noticed is that the Thai healthcare sector still fears AI will make doctors lose their jobs. There are doubts about relying on AI for patient treatment. However, when weighing the pros and cons, the benefits of using AI far outweigh the drawbacks. It can treat more patients and reduce the workload significantly.

The doctor cites an impressive and highly beneficial case study: examining cancer patient tissue samples to get results much faster than before.

"Suppose we have a cancer patient who needs a biopsy. After the biopsy, we send the tissue to the lab for examination and analysis. Pathologists determine the type of cancer. In the past, doctors who could examine tissue and diagnose the specific cancer had to train for 10 years. But now we can use this technology to assist in diagnosis. Although it may not be as accurate as specialist doctors in many cases, it can at least help with initial screening."

The real game-changer is that besides diagnosing cancer, AI can also predict with a certain level of accuracy how the tissue has genetically mutated. Normally, obtaining this in-depth information would cost hundreds of thousands of baht. Importantly, even when sent for lab analysis, abnormalities may not be detected.

But if AI indicates a possible mutation, it gives doctors more confidence in its potential usefulness. This demonstrates that the technology not only helps treat patients faster but can also reduce various costs.

However, Dr. Piyalitt acknowledges that although AI can diagnose diseases in such an advanced way, it still isn't as skilled as professorial-level pathologists. Nevertheless, from a positive perspective, it can significantly reduce the workload, especially in Thailand where there are few pathologists but many times more patients.

Increase Your Value with AI to Prevent Job Displacement

While advocating for the use of AI in medical work, Dr. Piyalitt constantly reminds us that even though AI makes work easier and more convenient, users should never trust AI data 100% without verification.

Dr. Piyalitt gives an example of using AI to create computer vision images from patient X-ray films. If the image has even a slight mark, scratch, or abnormality, AI may immediately misinterpret it. (Computer vision is an artificial intelligence technology that enables computers to see, understand, recognize, analyze, and describe images.)

"Or when using ChatGPT to find information, the answers it provides are very polished and seem seamless, even though they may be completely wrong. We see its immense benefits, but we still need to carefully verify its information."

These are just the first steps in AI adoption. The developer-doctor believes that in the next 10 years, AI will advance in many fields, becoming smarter and more accurate. But there's no need to worry, because ultimately, artificial intelligence will not replace humans or cause doctors to lose their jobs. Instead, it will help improve work.

"Doctors who know how to leverage AI will increase their value and have a better quality of life compared to those who don't," the Siriraj Hospital doctor affirms.

PreceptorAI: A New Hope to Elevate Thai Healthcare to International Standards

Besides being a scholar and future lecturer at Siriraj Hospital, Dr. Piyalitt is also the team leader and founder of PreceptorAI, a medical technology company aiming to effectively bring Medical AI to his home country.

Dr. Piyalitt explains that PreceptorAI is a platform that provides information similar to ChatGPT but specifically focuses on medical data. All medical personnel can search for information about various diseases in Thai, ensuring accurate, reliable, and quick access compared to other platforms.

"Previously, when training AI, data from the West was used. But often, that information can't be adapted to the context of Thai or ASEAN society. PreceptorAI will be a platform that helps take patient care to the next level, both nationally and regionally."

The doctor also reveals that apart from providing medical information through the existing LINE Official account or website, the team is in the process of seeking permission from relevant organizations such as ISO and the Thai FDA to directly integrate the Preceptor AI system with hospitals. This will make it easier for medical personnel to use and increase work efficiency.

However, none of this can happen effectively without support from government agencies. Dr. Piyalitt believes that if the government promotes the full utilization of these artificial intelligence technologies, it will become a key variable in creating a new S-Curve for Thailand.

"The Medical AI business not only helps the economy grow but also reduces the heavy workload of medical personnel and improves the quality of life for all Thais."

"Lastly, I hope that the scenes we used to see, such as patients waiting since 7:30 AM but getting their blood drawn at 9-10 AM, then waiting for the doctor to report the results in the afternoon only to find out it's nothing serious and they can take medication and go home - wasting time and potentially worsening some patients' conditions - will decrease. I'm confident that if we use AI to assist, some patients can go home and wait for Telemed results right away. Those who need immediate treatment won't have to wait long anymore."

"Even with the same number of medical personnel, this will undoubtedly enable us to care for many times more patients," the founder of PreceptorAI concludes.

Conclusion

  • Dr. Piyalitt Ittichaiwong, a pioneer in Thailand's medical AI revolution, is determined to transform the country's healthcare system by leveraging cutting-edge technology.

  • Through his company, PreceptorAI, Dr. Piyalitt aims to develop a platform that provides accurate, reliable, and easily accessible medical information to healthcare professionals across Thailand.

  • By integrating AI into medical practices, Dr. Piyalitt believes that patient outcomes can be significantly improved, costs can be reduced, and the workload of doctors can be alleviated.

  • The adoption of AI in Thai healthcare is still in its early stages, but Dr. Piyalitt's vision and dedication offer a promising glimpse into the future of medicine in the country.

  • Successful implementation of AI in healthcare requires collaboration between medical professionals, technology experts, and government agencies to ensure effective integration and utilization.

  • As AI continues to advance, it has the potential to revolutionize not only Thailand's healthcare system but also the global medical landscape, ultimately benefiting patients worldwide.

  • Dr. Piyalitt Ittichaiwong's journey serves as an inspiring example of how passion, innovation, and determination can drive positive change in the healthcare industry and beyond.

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