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Looking at the Future of AI in Healthcare IT

As I walked into this year’s Digital Health Investment Symposium, I felt like a kid in a candy store. In addition to getting to hear about topics like precision medicine, I even got to facilitate a panel on one of today’s hottest topics: Artificial Intelligence (AI). This new technology has generated both awe and frustration over the years, and I was eager to pick the brains of some subject matter experts.

Not So Fast

I introduced one of my burning questions by bringing up a man known as one of the fathers of AI: Herbert A. Simon. In 1957, Simon famously predicted that within 10 years, a computer would be able to routinely beat the human chess champion. Well, 1967 came and went, and humans were still on top. In the end, it took nearly 40 years for Simon’s vision to come to pass.

This story illustrates our tendency to overestimate the power and potential of innovation in the short term. This seems particularly true when it comes to AI. How often do we see an article in the news about something else AI can do, only to read further and learn that the technology isn’t ready for general adoption?

Despite some unfulfilled AI dreams, many of us can’t help but get excited at what it might someday do for many industries, including healthcare. In this spirit, I invited our panelists to step into Herbert Simon’s shoes. My question: “If you had a crystal ball and could see three to five years into the future, what AI use cases would you expect to be working and making an impact?”

Workflow Triaging

The symposium attendees and I were extraordinarily lucky to hear from the two panelists in the room. One was Lonny Northrup, the Senior Health Informaticist at Intermountain Healthcare, who has also been an enterprise and process architect and worked for years on implementing data innovations. Jason Wiesner, the Medical Director at Sutter Health and a diagnostic radiologist, also co-founded teleRAS, a 24/7 subspecialty teleradiology company. I knew that between the two, we would get an accurate and exciting picture of the future of AI.

As most providers could testify, there's a lot of work to be done on things as simple as fundamental workflow issues. “We're overwhelmed with unread worklists and more patient records than we can read,” said Wiesner, “and there are even more demands on radiologists and other folks who interpret medical imaging.”

Wiesner is confident that AI will be able to help fairly quickly. He anticipates a tool that will be able to sort through patient information, pinpoint the patients most likely to be abnormal, and triage all of the patients accordingly. “Some people would call those innovations table stakes,” Wiesner said, “but those tools are desperately needed today, and they could be adopted like wildfire.”

Patient Engagement

“I believe that AI is going to have the greatest impact in population health and patient engagement,” Northrup said. He described tools that could suggest to doctors which actions would be best for their patients both clinically and socioeconomically. This could prevent conundrums with medical devices and directly help patients. “We all want to be healthier, but we don't all do the things that will help us to be healthier,” Northrup pointed out. “These solutions can actually help us to do things we haven't been successful at doing.”

Northrup even described work Intermountain had done with medication adherence for complex cardiovascular patients. “This technology connects the patient to their care team 24/7,” Northrup said. “It helps patients receive care in the ways they want to receive care.” These tools can also be used for patients with type 1 diabetes and are being developed for COPD and other conditions. “The results are patient satisfaction scores from 85%-100%, reduced readmissions, improved hospital and clinical utilization, improved clinical outcomes, and reductions in HbA1c results, hypertension rates, and more.”

While most of the technology currently used may not facilitate provider-patient interactions until weeks after a patient leaves the hospital, Intermountain looks forward to AI-inspired patient engagement tools helping to manage patient care immediately. “As soon as a patient walks out the door, the clinical team will receive meaningful feedback,” Northrup says. “Did the patient take their medications? What is their weight? Getting that information on a daily basis will allow providers to intervene much more quickly and increase patient wellness.”

Want to Hear More?

Clearly, those of us at the Digital Health Investment Symposium were given a real treat. For those of you who would like to learn even more about the near future of AI and how this technology can improve healthcare, stay tuned for another post about the rest of the AI panel!

 

 

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