Healthcare News & Insights

How to meet patient demand for AI in health care

The past 10 years have given us some truly innovative technology; now, healthcare providers are beginning to figure out the best ways to use it. They would do well to follow other industries by listening to consumers – in this case, patients – to determine the best way to incorporate this technology into their workflows. In this guest post, Vinay Seth Mohta, a managing director at an artificial intelligence engineering services firm, offers three patient-focused AI applications that might be a good place for healthcare executives to start.

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Accenture’s “2018 Consumer Survey on Digital Health” found that three-quarters of the patients surveyed use technology to manage their own health. In addition, patients said they were eager to incorporate a new kind of technology into their health care: artificial intelligence. The survey’s respondents were willing to use a variety of AI-assisted healthcare technologies, including an AI virtual health assistant (61% of respondents) and AI that could analyze your DNA to determine potential health risks (56% of respondents). A majority of respondents also indicated they would prefer AI-assisted surgery to traditional surgery. And according to another study by analytics company SAS, people are more likely to trust AI in health care than in other industries.

Still, while patients might be expressing an increased interest in managing their own health using robotics and AI, widespread usage of AI in health care is still a few years away, according to HIMSS Analytics. For the most part, healthcare providers have been adding technology to keep up – as evidenced by hospitals’ rising IT budgets – but adoption of AI tools has been relatively slow. Many factors have contributed to this slow adoption rate, including poor data quality and interoperability, concerns about patient privacy, and challenges integrating the new technology into existing workflows. Although successfully implementing AI tools is complicated, providers that are able to quickly institute the AI practices patients want will get an edge over their peers who are lagging behind.

AI applications that improve patient experience

While healthcare technology budgets continue to rise, executives are still struggling to determine what sort of technologies provide the best ROI. In a May 2017 study by the Healthcare Financial Management Association, 41% of healthcare CFOs said they didn’t have a way to track the effectiveness of their technology enhancements. Although AI is still relatively nascent, organizations that have invested in this technology are already seeing the impact. According to a study by MIT Technology Review Insights and Google Cloud, more than half of early stage and mature-stage users of AI say their efforts have resulted in demonstrable ROI.

AI isn’t only what patients want, but it’s also a way for healthcare providers to realize massive efficiencies in their operations. These three patient-focused AI applications might be a good place for any healthcare executive to start:

1. Virtual triage and care assistants

An online chat with an AI-powered virtual assistant can direct a patient to the proper type of provider or site of service, and the AI can gather important information to aid in the assessment. This system will eliminate the wait for patients who would otherwise have to rely on administrative staff for triage. Virtual care assistants would also allow patients to access a provider 24/7 so they would always be able to receive help when needed.

The first step in implementing such a system would be to create a comprehensive set of common questions and responses. CVS Health recently partnered with Buoy Health, an AI-focused healthcare startup, to integrate this type of software at 1,100 of its MinuteClinic locations. By interacting with AI before interacting with a doctor, patients at the clinics are quickly directed to the appropriate healthcare setting at the lowest cost.

2. Real-time health monitoring

Currently, some doctors are limited to monitoring health data during patient visits. Giving patients wearable devices will ensure they’re monitored thoroughly around the clock, giving doctors a more comprehensive data set and ensuring a more informed care plan.

The emerging wearables market has potential for a wide variety of patients, from athletes at risk of a head injury to women with an elevated risk of breast cancer. The Mayo Clinic recently invested in AliveCor, the leader in FDA-cleared mobile ECG technology, to monitor patients for atrial fibrillation. Patients using this technology are better able to address irregularities early on, limiting their risk of later developing a stroke or other health complications.

3. Improved patient flow

Going to the hospital can be a frustrating experience for patients. The wait to be admitted or discharged can last hours. Implementing AI or predictive analytics can improve bed management, streamline discharge processes and better manage patient transfers between facilities.

In 2016, Johns Hopkins partnered with GE Healthcare to launch the Judy Reitz Capacity Command Center, which uses predictive analytics to keep employees informed about the number of patients entering the hospital, the status of their treatments, and potential bottlenecks in patient volume. The system also keeps track of which patients are the highest priority and where beds are available.

Thanks to popular patient demand, technology in health care is here to stay. The providers that are best able to utilize cutting-edge technology will emerge as leaders in the next generation of care. The implementation of real-time health monitoring, improved patient flow and virtual care assistants will go a long way to ensure patients and healthcare facilities run as smoothly and accurately as possible for many years to come.

Vinay Seth Mohta is a managing director at Manifold, an artificial intelligence engineering services firm with offices in Boston and Silicon Valley. 

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