Healthcare News & Insights

Are oncologists ready to adopt AI tools?

Healthcare technology is a growing field with much to offer in all aspects of patient care. In this guest post, Bruce Feinberg, DO, VP/CMO of an integrated healthcare services and products company, providing customized solutions for healthcare facilities, reveals the results of a recent study on oncologists and their attitudes toward artificial intelligence technology and where they see it headed in the future.

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Healthcare technology continues to be a sector of significant spend, with Forbes reporting that public and private investment in healthcare artificial intelligence (AI) is expected to reach $6.6 billion by 2021. An array of new technologies ranging from AI and machine learning to wearables and microchipped drug capsules, once deemed science fiction, have the potential to transform the diagnosis and treatment of disease. Yet historically adoption of technology in health care has been decidedly slower than in other industries, leading to a question of whether these investments will deliver their expected return.

The reasons behind the healthcare industry’s slow adoption of new technology are multifaceted and include everything from regulatory hurdles to cost barriers. But the willingness of healthcare providers to embrace technological innovations at the point of care is certainly a critical factor.

While AI has applications in many disease categories, the potential to apply it in oncology is particularly exciting given the rapidly increasing complexity of cancer treatment in this era of precision medicine and value-based care. To better understand how providers feel about using AI in oncology, a survey was done of 180 oncologists from across the United States, including hospital- and community-based practices. Its purpose was to gauge their views on the potential of AI to improve care, where they see opportunities to leverage it in their practices, and possible barriers to adoption.

Cautious optimism about the potential of AI

While more than half of oncologists (56%) surveyed said AI will have a limited impact over the next few years, with some adoption of AI tools among select oncology practices, a significant number of participants – about one-third – said it will have a significant impact within the next three years.

Looking beyond three years, 53% of participating oncologists said they’re “excited” to see what role AI may play in supporting care and enhancing practice efficiency. More than half of participating oncologists said, over the longer term, it’s “likely” or “very likely” AI will improve quality of care (53%), enhance clinical outcomes (57%) and drive operational efficiencies (58%).

Expectations of time savings

Nearly four in 10 participating oncologists surveyed cited “automating administrative tasks so I can focus on patientsas the top potential benefit of AI. This finding isn’t surprising considering that physicians spend nearly two hours on electronic medical records for every hour of direct patient care, according to a recent study in the Annals of Family Medicine. The survey also found that reducing administrative burdens was especially valued by oncologists under the age of 40.

Interestingly, survey participants didn’t see the value in using AI to increase efficiency by reducing jobs. When asked about the most valuable benefits of AI, just 4% cited “automating functions currently staffed by people, allowing my practice to save money.” This may reflect a bias among oncologists toward maintaining a “human touch” when it comes to certain routine tasks like scheduling patients.

Better data for more informed decisions

When asked about the greatest opportunities to improve care for oncology patients, the participants gave top ratings to “helping to determine best treatment paths” (26%); “predicting the patients most likely to develop complications and/or experience adverse events” (23%); and “improving accuracy of diagnostics including reading scans” (22%). These findings reflect a growing desire among oncologists to access better and easier-to-understand data to manage the ever-increasing complexity of oncology care. With more than 60 new cancer drugs approved over the past five years and many more in development, oncologists are beginning to recognize they need better decision support tools at the point of care.

Lack of evidence and familiarity are potential barriers to adoption

While optimistic about AI, oncologists are also eager to see clinical data proving it can improve care. One in three surveyed respondents said lack of clinical evidence is the biggest concern they had when it comes to using AI in practice.

The research also indicated that participants need to learn more about AI. Only a handful (5%) said they’re “very familiar” with AI and 27% said lack of familiarity with AI was their top concern about using it in practice. These findings reveal a need for education and training on AI-based tools as they’re introduced to providers, particularly for those technologies that are first to market.

Despite the potential barriers, the overall picture for AI in health care remains bright. The results indicate that oncologists are open to AI and can envision how it’ll deliver value to practices in the years ahead. For more details on the research, access the fifth edition of Oncology Insights.

Bruce Feinberg, DO, serves as VP/CMO for Cardinal Health Specialty Solutions, where he leads the company’s work in health outcomes research.

 

 

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