3 Trends on the Future of AI in Healthcare

Those on the front lines of technology know that artificial intelligence (AI) will affect every industry. But the degree of change — and what the near and long-term impacts will look like — is a point of confusion, particularly in healthcare.

I recently spoke on a panel at the 2018 Chicago AI and Data Science Conference at the University of Chicago. While there were many insights about using analytics in healthcare, what stood out to me was the discussion around how the healthcare industry will leverage AI to stay ahead of the digital curve. Here are three key themes.

AI will impact the entire patient value chain

Unlike most industries, the complexity and size of healthcare ($3.3 trillion, 18 percent of GDP) presents enormous opportunities for AI to have a large impact by reducing costs and improving patient outcomes. From transportation to reimbursement, here are a few examples of how AI will affect every step of the patient journey.

  • Ambulances will automatically be directed to the closest hospital with fewest patients in the ER. As soon as an ambulance heads toward a specific hospital, staff on the ground will be automatically notified about the type of patient injury so they can prepare optimal treatment before the patient arrives.
  • Blockchain, smart sensors, and AI will be used in concert to optimize and track hospital resources, such as medication, assets, staff, and patients. This will improve patient flows, maximize staff utilization, optimize operating room efficiency, and help reduce costs.
  • Healthcare reimbursement fraud will be reduced with machine learning by analyzing medical claim data. Advanced algorithms will detect duplicated and falsified claims, resulting in millions of dollars in savings for insurance companies.  

Blockchain will (eventually) be a game changer

Blockchain will affect many parts of the healthcare system, but the most exciting application is the effect it will have on tracking patient medical records.

A current challenge in the U.S. healthcare system is tracking a patient’s medical history, as the data is often not digitized and is not easily shared between different clinics and hospitals that a patient has visited.

Blockchain will change all of this by creating a digital footprint of patients’ medical histories throughout their lifetime, and more important, give ownership of the data back to the patients, allowing them to determine what data they want to share with whom. This means that patients will be able to monetize their data by selling it to clinical studies.

Fast forward 50 to 100 years to a world where 400 million Americans have a digital footprint of their entire medical history, and medical researchers start performing machine learning and predictive analytics on this dataset. They’ll be able to link the health problems a person may experience in their 60s to the lifestyle choices and environment they were exposed to in their 20s by looking at things such as diet, exercise habits, and vitals and tracking their historical locations from their phone position.

Medical professionals will finally have a direct cause-and-effect correlation for a number of diseases. This degree of medical correlation will revolutionize medical studies and the general scientific process and lead to improved healthcare outcomes.

AI is the new electricity

Dr. Andrew Ng, Adjunct Professor at Stanford, said it best: “AI is the new electricity.” We are in the infant state of this technology, much like electricity was more than 100 years ago. In that short century, electricity changed the world — AI will have the same powerful impact as the technology keeps maturing.

The healthcare industry will not be the first industry to be dramatically changed by AI. In fact, it will most likely be one of the last industries to fully adopt the technology to its full potential because of the conservative nature of doctors and the healthcare industry. It’s difficult to integrate an impactful AI technology system into hospital workflows because of some doctors’ tendency to resist change.

But all hope is not lost. I’m optimistic that our current generation of children will grow up in a digital society and be accustomed to rapidly changing technology. In 30 years when those children are adults, the people who become doctors will be more willing to accept new technology than the current generation of medical professionals.

Still, one thing remains true: You can’t stop technology — you can only embrace it and use it for good.

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