How artificial intelligence is shaping healthcare delivery
By Jon Pearce, Zipnosis CEO and co-founder
There is no shortage of articles — scholarly and magazine — around the ways that artificial intelligence (or, as it’s commonly known, AI) will change health care delivery. We are at the precipice of a digital and genomic explosion in health care that has the potential to out-pace even the smartest, most diligent physician’s ability to keep up. That said, AI is poised to help physicians effectively navigate this changing landscape and improve the care they can offer patients.
Looking to the future is exciting and intriguing. It’s also speculative. AI is still very much in its infancy, which means that people can overestimate or underestimate its potential impact. I’m going to try not to do either, and instead present a clear picture of how AI is impacting care delivery today and the ways it will do so in the near-term.
What AI won’t do
The list of changes AI is purported to bring about in health care is long and inevitably topped by eliminating the need for doctors. Frankly, I find this difficult to believe. While AI is certainly on the road to supplementing physicians, an outright replacement of all health care providers is something that will certainly not happen in my lifetime, and I’m guessing not over the next several generations’ lifetimes.
A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association pitted physicians against online symptom checkers — the most basic type of AI available — and found that the physicians significantly out-performed symptom checkers, particularly for high-acuity conditions. The study’s authors went on to say that future studies should examine how algorithmic clinical protocols could augment physicians to improve diagnostic accuracy. Which brings me to…
AI in health care today
I’ve already mentioned symptom checkers as the most basic form of AI in use, but this isn’t the only place AI appears in health care right now. For example, IBM’s much-touted “Watson” is currently aggregating vast amounts of patient information to help oncologists create precise and personalized cancer treatments. AI is also helping providers detect abnormalities in X-rays and MRIs, supporting population health, and helping to streamline patient experience.
Perhaps the most robust use of AI in health care is in the area of virtual care. Through increasingly complex algorithms and advances in machine learning, AI is providing more useful and less intrusive clinical decision support for physicians delivering care online. Ultimately, this is helping to ensure more accurate diagnosis and increasing guideline adherence for prescribing. Though online care is a newer care delivery channel, the support provided by AI algorithms is making it simple for physicians, and safe and effective for patients. And that’s just the beginning.
The future of care delivery and the promise of AI
The current uses of AI provide a tantalizing glimpse into its potential for transforming health care. Going forward, I anticipate current AI technology will serve as a foundation for advances that will help relieve administrative burden from health systems and providers, and enable physicians to focus more on patient interactions and providing personal, high-touch care.
As technology becomes increasingly sophisticated, AI will move from being an interesting addition to health systems’ technology landscape to becoming an integral part of care delivery by assisting physicians in areas like:
- removing the documentation burdens placed on physicians by EMR systems and insurance companies;
- filtering out noise in the data — whether from Dr. Google, claims, or publications, the information AI can present is personalized and contextualized for their panel;
- reducing malpractice probabilities by helping physicians quickly assess the risk/reward of various treatment options for not just a cohort but a specific patient; and
- helping patients access the right level of care at the right time, reducing physician burnout and unnecessary care.
Initial forays into AI are already making an impact in some of these areas today. But we are just beginning to tap the potential it holds for improving care, simplifying workflows for physicians and health systems, and effectively supporting patient needs.
The age of data is upon us, and the ability to aggregate and interpret a large volume of information is increasingly the key to providing care at both a population and personal level. AI is the tool that‘s emerging to help health systems and providers make effective use of this data. With AI as part of the growing digital health care toolkit, the future looks increasingly bright.
Jon Pearce is CEO and co-founder of Zipnosis, a Minnesota-based telemedicine company.
Find him @ZipnosisJon.