Artificial intelligence: it seems like everywhere you turn, AI is in the news. From smart cars to smart assistants, AI (and the hype that goes along with it) is beginning to permeate the technology we use every day.
And now, it’s entered into healthcare.
AI technology is making its way into hospitals, care facilities and doctor’s offices around the world — and healthcare providers and patients are already reaping the benefits. Thanks to these powerful tools, providers are seeing streamlined processes and reduced costs, and patients are receiving more personalized attention and on-demand care.
While keeping up with the latest scientific and technological advancements is important for business, it is crucial to distinguish between the technologies that will actually support your organization over the long term, and those that are just passing fads.
We reached out to industry experts for their opinions on the AI trends you should be watching closely.
While application of AI to direct clinical practice is exciting, there is growing investment in applying this powerful technology to supply chain, revenue cycle, patient experience and resource/workflow optimization. These “blocking and tackling” applications may not be sexy, but they offer opportunities to address fundamental issues of financial sustainability, cost, access and availability for all of us.
The next step in AI is analyzing unstructured healthcare data and creating opportunities to provide actionable insights, potentially predicting outcomes with greater accuracy than previously possible. When healthcare AI is used on billions of clinical diagnostic or lab records and is available in real time, it can map out specific and complex patient journeys with a high degree of accuracy. It can identify relevant patient segments before a physician makes a treatment decision, and in some cases, before a therapy is even considered.
Virtual nurses. Just like virtual assistants such as Google Assistant and Amazon Echo, more industry specific assistants such as virtual nurses will become more common in the near future. At first, these assistants will do remedial tasks like remind patients of their medication and make suggestions on vitals (blood pressure, oxygen level, etc.), but over time they will become more complex and begin conversing and asking questions, watching over patients 24/7.
One trend we’re seeing is the impact of AI on accelerating R&D. As life sciences researchers explore precision medicine, ‘-omics’ based interventions and personal health monitoring, they are generating massive amounts of data that is no longer manageable by humans using traditional tools. AI technologies offer significant improvements in processing and analyzing these large data sets, ultimately leading to new knowledge and models for treatment development. The promise is that AI can shorten the drug development cycle.
Data science is becoming the predominant decision factor for the development, targeting and delivery of drugs and medical devices.
AI is not only helping manage all the information, it is helping generate the right information. For example, a GPO [group purchasing organization] is using AI to create product databases for more than nine million different consumables and equipment it handles, all from product brochures, white papers and surgical protocols. For the first time, the purchasing manager can say that SKU123 has the same specs as SKU456 but better outcomes.
NLP [natural language processing] will soon become mainstream on healthcare websites by way of chatbots. In their most basic form, these AI-powered widgets will be used to field basic inquiries, augmenting traditional call centers and live chat tools. Call centers, in particular, are notoriously expensive and challenging to manage for large hospitals and health systems. The opportunity to have consumers engage with a chatbot for basic questions about, say, hours of operation or appointment setting, will prove compelling for many administrators. Better yet, research suggests that many consumers prefer the empowerment that comes from self-service.
A trend healthcare CEOs should be paying attention to is how healthcare payments are changing radically and the role of care navigation in this change. The healthcare system that we know as insurance is getting disrupted as fast as retail was in the ‘90s. Care navigation is the notion that we will route patients to the right medical service, at a known price, with no wait. A large amount of capital will be invested to enable the roll-up strategies that enable care navigation – the Amazon and CVS deals are the tip of the iceberg at the top end of the market.
We’ll see medical devices increasingly relying on cellular connectivity, because it has an enhanced capacity to support IoT connected medical devices. Cellular connectivity allows data from devices to be collected and made available to physicians and caretakers remotely and in real-time. Patient health data can be stored securely in the cloud to prevent loss and allow physicians to access individual data as well as conduct population-wide analytics. Connectivity can also be achieved through wireless connections to smartphones or tablets, enabling smaller, easier-to-use devices by simplifying user interfaces and allowing patients to be monitored from home.
Pay attention to the rise of Internet of Things (IOT) applications. In recent years, there have been industry-wide cybersecurity breaches and a significant increase in medical device cybersecurity vulnerabilities reported by the government. Hospitals must take quick, decisive action to maintain data privacy, secure the thousands of connected medical devices on their networks, and protect patients. Companies should treat cybersecurity incidents as a “non-natural” disaster, and invest more in planning, defensive measures and personnel.
It’s apparent that AI can be applied throughout the healthcare industry — from revenue management to virtual care, and everything in between — further cementing the use of this technology far into the future.
Our industry experts provided a variety of suggestions for AI implementation, including:
Ultimately, how your organization decides to implement AI will depend on your unique business needs. Remember: despite the hype, the use of AI, like any other technology, should be measured by the ROI it generates for your organization. Starting small will give you the opportunity to assess its impact, and methodically adapt your organization to the digital transformation underway across all industries.