IT Strategy

How Artificial Intelligence (AI) Will Improve Healthcare in 2019

The healthcare industry has always been one of the first to adopt new technology to enhance the level of patient care and services. So it really doesn’t come as a surprise that AI in healthcare is expected to reach $6.6 billion by 2021 (reflecting a Compound Annual Growth Rate or CAGR of 40% over the next few years).

Within the next three years, Energias Market Research expects the global healthcare AI market to be worth approximately $19.9 billion by 2024, growing at an aggressive CAGR of 48.7%. With numbers like this, we just can’t ignore this phenomenon.

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According to Dr. Jordan Shlain, M.D., Internal Medicine Physician, Managing Partner at Private Medical and Founder of Healthloop, "we have to have the courage to do things here in health IT because lives and safety and outcomes depend on it. We've spent a lot of time on health IT 1.0 — building the freeways, buying the expensive equipment, making this work for the system — and we're at the point of health IT 2.0 right now, and that's like how do we help the doctors and patients?"

Research also suggests that by 2021, AI tools for home-based preventive healthcare solutions and AI-based predictive analytics models will save hospitals as much as $52 billion (led by North American providers who will benefit from $21 billion in savings).

AI in healthcare represents various tools and technologies that enable machines to sense, comprehend, learn, and take action by performing both administrative and clinical function. In contrast, legacy technologies were algorithm-based tools that complimented human functions.

AI in 2019 has the potential to truly augment human activity within the industry. So what can we expect to see over the new year? Let’s take a look.

The Emergence of a Healthcare Digital Workforce

Going forward, healthcare providers will have to go through a cultural change. Once AI tools and technologies have been implemented, these projects should incorporate portfolios that include cognitive insights, prioritization algorithms, and operational optimization.

If we take Houston Methodist, for example, we can already see this happening. According to Michelle Stansbury, Vice President of Corporate Business and Revenue Cycle at Houston Methodist, “the system has created a digital workforce receptive to the use of AI and intelligent process automation. Early adopters included supply chain, insurance verification, scheduling, and physician credentialing.”

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Stansbury further stressed the importance of stakeholder management whenever an organization starts rolling out AI. When AI is implemented, you have to clearly identify the roles and responsibilities of both bots and people to ensure that the organization functions as expected.

She also emphasized the need to obtain FDA approval for AI algorithms once these credential bots go beyond the testing phase and prove their reliability. While all this might sound a little farfetched, I can certainly see it happening, although not immediately.

AI Will Provide an Instant “Second Opinion”

The ultimate goal of AI in healthcare is to make a highly precise diagnosis within a short period of time. For example, highly sensitive and specific algorithms can now be trained on gold-standard datasets to support medical professionals who screen for pathologies with specialist-level accuracy.

According to a recent study conducted by the European Respiratory Society International Congress, AI and ML technologies can be invaluable in helping pulmonologists interpret respiratory symptoms more accurately and make the right diagnosis.

This study found that two large hospitals using AI-based software were able to improve diagnoses significantly. This led to Dr. Marko Topalovic (Ph.D.), a postdoctoral researcher at the Laboratory for Respiratory Diseases, Catholic University of Leuven (KU Leuven), to say “we firmly believe that we can empower providers to make their interpretations and diagnoses easier, faster and better. AI will not replace providers, that is certain…However, it is evident that AI will augment our abilities to accomplish more and decrease chances for errors and redundant work.”

The study focused on 120 pulmonologists from 16 European hospitals (namely in Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands) and made 6000 interpretations of Pulmonary Function Tests (PFT) data from 50 randomly selected patients.

AI also analyzed the same data, and both results were measured against the gold standard guidelines. The results are as follows:

  • PFTs conducted by the pulmonologists matched the guidelines in 74% of cases (with a range of 56-88%)
  • AI-based software interpretations matched the guidelines perfectly (100%)

As a result, the doctors were able to diagnose the primary disease 45% of the time (with a range of 24-62%). AI, on the other hand, was able to make the correct diagnosis 82% of the time.

These AI, ML, and Deep Learning (DL)  algorithms will only get better with time, so it’s safe to say that they will play a critical role in healthcare in the years to come.

AI Will Take Virtual Medicine to the Next Level

Telemedicine has had a significant impact in North America by seamlessly connecting rural patients to leading healthcare providers in urban areas. This approach has dramatically reduced high readmission rates and specialist wait times.

While telemedicine has been around for a while now, the industry is still in its infancy and is expected to grow at a CAGR of 16.5% by 2023. With that kind of growth, healthcare providers now have greater potential to leverage AI-enabled tools to monitor their patients remotely.

This approach can help overloaded virtual care teams feel more confident about their virtual decisions. When AI is providing information based on real-time data and predictive analytics, it has the potential to reduce false alarms considerably and help them make better diagnoses.

Although some providers are still wary of virtual care, the ability to remotely monitor patients using AI has the potential to be the tipping point that transforms the whole industry.

While AI’s influence in healthcare will increase over 2019, it doesn’t mean that people will be replaced. Healthcare professionals will continue to retain their unique ability to evaluate patients holistically and understand the individual behind the test results.

So the future of AI in healthcare will be more or less the same because it will complement the clinician while enabling the delivery of enhanced personalized care. However, AI will do a lot more than ever before.

How do you see AI evolving within the healthcare space? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

IT Storyteller and Copywriter
Andrew's current undertaking is big data analytics and AI as well as digital design and branding. He is a contributor to various publications with the focus on emerging technology and digital marketing.