November 02, 2020 – Eighty-three percent of healthcare organizations have implemented an artificial intelligence strategy, while another 15 percent are planning to develop one, according to a recent survey conducted by Optum.
Fifty-nine percent of leaders said they believe AI will deliver significant cost savings within three years, a 90 percent increase since 2018.
The results of the survey show that the healthcare industry’s increase in AI adoption is driven by executives seeing more tangible benefits from the technology – including improved business performance and patient outcomes.
“These insights demonstrate that as those in late-stage AI implementation grow more familiar with AI — as well as the benefits it yields — they in turn become more comfortable and confident, generating momentum in which AI grows more beneficial more quickly,” researchers stated.
“With AI, the more quickly organizations in early or middle stages of AI deployment move forward, the sooner they will overcome uncertainty and unlock the rewards of this powerful business tool.”
The survey also revealed that the current healthcare crisis has catalyzed the use of AI in medical settings. More than half (56 percent) said that their response to COVID-19 has caused them to accelerate or expand their AI implementation strategies.
Additionally, of those who reported being in the late stages of AI development, 51 percent believe they’ll achieve a return on AI investments faster because of their pandemic response.
“The need to have a strategy in place may have come into sharp focus during the COVID-19 pandemic, when organizations scrambled to use every tool at their disposal to overcome the unprecedented strain being placed on the industry,” the team said.
“AI’s ability to automate workflows and help simplify the communication and analysis of complex data can help alleviate that burden.”
Researchers also noted that organizations who take too long to plan or deploy AI strategies are at risk of falling behind their tech-savvy counterparts: Fifty-five percent of companies with $1 billion or more in revenue have an AI strategy in place, compared to just 37 percent of their lower-revenue peers.
In addition to cost savings, healthcare executives are looking forward to improve patients’ health. Fifty-five percent of leaders rank improving health outcomes as the greatest impact of AI investments, while another 55 percent rank improving patient experiences as the top impact.
“Executives’ emphasis on the consumer-focused benefits serves as a reminders that health care is first and foremost an industry focused on the well-being of those it serves — and that AI has implications for real people most in need,” researchers said.
To realize these benefits, healthcare leaders are planning to apply AI to a range of tasks. Forty percent plan to monitor data from Internet of Things (IoT) devices such as wearable technologies, while 37 percent want to accelerate research for new therapeutic or clinical discoveries.
Another 37 percent want to use AI tools to assign codes for accurate diagnoses, facilities, and procedures.
These applications are all well-suited to advanced analytics technologies, the team noted.
“Internet-connected remote patient monitoring devices enable more complete virtual health offerings, and AI can identify signals and trends within those data streams; AI can help prioritize potential investigative targets for treatments or vaccines; and automating business processes can enable organizations to achieve more even when resources are under duress,” researchers said.
While the industry appears to be increasingly adopting and deploying AI technology, several barriers to use and implementation still exist. Seventy-three percent of respondents said they had concerns about AI because of a lack of transparency in how the data is used or how the technology makes decisions. Just under 70 percent said the role of humans in the decision-making process was a top concern.
These findings highlight ongoing concerns that AI will take over the jobs of human clinicians, or come to conclusions that may not be based in evidence or provider expertise.
“As executives prepare to infuse AI into their operations, they should ask system designers to include an explainable interface whenever possible to help recipients of AI-driven predictions better understand what’s influencing those recommendations,” researchers said.
“Likewise, while routine processes can be targeted for automation, complex decisions should always include a human perspective within the workflow. That means the AI is augmenting human capabilities and helping individuals work at the top of their license. People’s judgment remains the deciding factor and the human touch of health care is maintained.”
Many leaders have also recognized the importance of integrating social determinants of health data into AI algorithms. Fifty-nine percent have already incorporated non-clinical information into their AI plans to improve predictions about future health needs, while another 36 percent plan to do so.
The results of the survey demonstrate the steadily increasing prevalence of AI in healthcare, as well as the significant benefits the technology can bring.
“As AI grows more and more popular across all industries, healthcare executives will see increasing opportunities to capitalize on the insights it offers, setting the stage to radically alter their industry — from the bottom line all the way to patient experience,” the researchers concluded.
“The results of this survey capture not only how AI is becoming increasingly the norm at a more rapid pace, but how its benefits — as well as the ways in which the industry can overcome pitfalls — will be more widespread as familiarity with AI grows.”