Health-care institutions have been anticipating the impact that artificial intelligence (AI) will have on the performance and efficiency of their operations and their workforces—and the quality of patient care. But many have already been reaping the benefits of AI tools. And contrary to common, yet unproven, fears that machines will replace human workers, AI technologies in health care may actually be "re-humanizing" health care, just as the system itself shifts to value-based care models that may favor the outcome patients receive instead of the number of patients seen.
A survey of more than 900 healthcare professionals by MIT Technology Review Insights, in association with GE Healthcare, finds that healthcare professionals are already using AI to improve data analysis, enable better diagnoses and treatment predictions, and free medical staff from administrative burdens. These findings are even more critical as health care delivery and administration are becoming more complex and costly, and professional and technological capacity is ever more burdened, with doctors buried amid vastly expanding workloads and administrative, lower-yield work, and patients robbed of personal interactions with their physicians. For one, machines must work for doctors and clinicians, not the other way around; much patient consultation time is spent entering data, not drawing inference from it. This, however, is largely an evolutionary transition in the adoption of AI. More important, healthcare organizations must allow for fundamental shifts in how patients are cared for—doctors and other healthcare workers must leverage increasingly comprehensive pools of AI-mediated medical data to make decisions in collaboration with machines.
The effect of AI is already here
Not long ago, no one would have dreamed that a machine could be a partner in guiding a medical procedure. But advancements in AI have positioned this class of technologies as a powerful tool for clinical and operational efficiency. Numerous technologies are in play today to allow health-care professionals to deliver the best care, increasingly customized to patients, and at lower costs. Our survey has found medical professionals are already using AI tools, to improve both patient care and back-end business processes, from increasing the accuracy of oncological diagnosis to increasing the efficiency of managing schedules and workflow. Indeed, 72% of respondents show interest in implementing AI.
Actionable insights untangle complexity
AI's core value proposition is in both improving diagnosing abilities and reducing regulatory and data complexities by automating and streamlining workflow. This allows healthcare professionals to harness the wealth of insight the industry is generating, without drowning in it. In our survey, respondents indicated that AI has increased the operational efficiency of health-care institutions: medical professionals report that their workweek is now being rebalanced in favor of care-giving activities.
More time means more meaningful relationships
Scheduling tools give more autonomy to patients while streamlining smarter scheduling and increasing resource capacity. And AI-enabled clinical tools help medical professionals manage growing information overload. But, as Merkel points out, there is room for improvement: much of consultation time is spent with computers in between patients and caregivers, with the latter recording information, rather than being health coaches or facilitators.
Implementing AI in health-care operations, like any significant technology organizational transformation, presents multiple challenges. Respondents reported multiple hurdles that they found significantly challenging. Among those was skepticism about the provable benefit and overall cost of AI as top factors hindering its adoption. Hospital administration is generally more skeptical than medical staff. One is the disruptive impact that AI has on existing processes; another is the difficulty of integrating AI applications into existing systems.
Collaborative care will connect an ecosystem
The growth of AI and automated processes often creates concerns that the human touch will be removed from the health-care delivery process. What the industry is finding, however, is the opposite is becoming true: AI can extend the resources and capabilities of overworked health-care professionals and vastly improve processes. Clinicians and administrators alike are providing care in a network of AI-enabled tools and insight that lets them engage colleagues, automated resources, and patients to make more accurate, more proactive care decisions.
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