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June 7, 2016

AI: The Next Stage in Healthcare

Summary:

Many medical professionals fear that AI will cost them their jobs, but costs must somehow decline, and errors must plunge.

Photo Courtesy of DeviantArt/agsandrew

In the great tradition of discoveries such as germ theory, X-rays, DNA and penicillin, the next stage of our growth in healthcare will come from artificial intelligence (AI). This includes effective machine learning and neural networks and a promise of greater pattern recognition, data analysis, “general thinking,” decision-making and efficiency.  

Until recently, a large percentage of data was not digitized, nor did we have the storage and processing power. Now that we have this capability, we will soon see significant steps forward in AI innovation, growth of neural networking and deep-learning technology, including:

  • Medical imaging and diagnostics;
  • Wearables;
  • Mental health;
  • Virtual assistants;
  • Risk management;
  • Drug discovery;
  • ER and hospital monitoring;
  • Health and lifestyle management;
  • Biotechnology; and
  • Genomics.  

Take a moment to see what’s on the horizon: smart visionaries and emerging companies such as  Merge HealthcareZephyr HealthLumiataGinger.ioApixioZebra Medical VisionBabylon HealthSentrianAICure and HealthAware. Venture funding will continue to increase in the digital health sector, with respect to dollars invested and deals made. Look to see greater M&A activity in many of healthcare’s largest industries.

These initiatives appear to be putting our country’s health in a great place for the future. Many of these efforts are intertwined with the healthcare’s industry’s efforts to capture the Triple Aim: improving the patient’s experience with care (quality and satisfaction), bettering the health of populations and reducing healthcare cost. 

See also: How to Think About the Rise of the Machines

Thanks to abundant processing power that was previously available only on the world’s most robust supercomputers, AI is developing faster than most predicted. As medicine faces many existing and new challenges, it will seek to address many areas in healthcare rife with inefficiencies and waste.

By the end of 2016, the healthcare sector is set to have the largest workforce in all U.S. industries — including government. At nearly 19% of the U.S.’ GDP (and growing), healthcare must recognize that technologies such as AI can serve a major purpose in improving human-powered efficiency.  

When leaders think about AI in healthcare, they are immediately drawn to innovating, reducing medical error, improving management of patient health and making discoveries in drugs and biotechnology. But the greatest benefit may lie in the reduction of human capital, a large direct and indirect contributor to cost.

Many medical professionals fear that, because of AI, they may lose their jobs. Early AI companies, especially those courting large players such as IBM, recognize this. These companies are not keen on holding hands and have been assuring medical clients this will not happen. Clearly, we must walk before we can run, and augmented intelligence, as a form of AI, is this needed step.  

However, our healthcare and political leaders must recognize the importance of the last leg of the Triple Aim. Until cost drops significantly, we will continue to see great financial strain on many Americans.

Outcome-based payments are set to help with this financial burden, though they might not be enough. Publicly owned, for-profit companies need to satisfy their shareholders. Besides, a recent Johns Hopkins study put medically caused deaths as the No. 3 killer in America today, at nearly 251,000 deaths (nearly 10% of the total), showing that even the best-intentioned and -trained humans have limitations.

When AI truly arrives, we must make sure our healthcare and political leaders are held to doing what is best for the health and well-being of the American workers and taxpayers. If greater efficiencies and accuracy through replacing jobs with AI can lead to the Triple Aim and greater healthcare system sustainability, we must not be afraid to move forward.

Healthcare is not only about business and profit but about serving what Abraham Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature” by passing on a better system to the next generation.

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About the Author

Steve Ambrose is a strategy and business development maverick, with a 20-plus-year career across several healthcare and technology industries. A well-connected team leader and polymath, his interests are in healthcare IT, population health, patient engagement, artificial intelligence, predictive analytics, claims and chronic disease.

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