Healthcare systems are primed for new technologies to make a literal life-changing impact.
But the fragmentation of the U.S. healthcare landscape, which has historically bottlenecked care delivery and data sharing, could be similarity holding back innovations like generative artificial intelligence (AI) that hold the as of yet unrealized promise to help patients and providers more effectively manage the entire healthcare journey.
This, as few of the major public healthcare organizations made explicit mention of their use of AI’s innovations on their most recent 2023 earnings calls.
But that doesn’t mean they aren’t experimenting with the new technology — and their silence relative to that of their tech peers, the ones pioneering AI tools, could just be attributed to the fact that AI’s applications within healthcare remain unproven, and that multi-billion-dollar juggernauts are inherently slow to course correct.
Buried in CVS Health’s 10-K filing is the note that the company is making “concerted investments in emerging technology capabilities such as voice, artificial intelligence and robotics to further automate, reduce cost and improve the experience for all of its constituents.”
And AI use cases targeting administrative burden and operational efficiency come as no surprise, given that the healthcare industry is coming off a year marked by both labor shortage issues and physician and nurse burnout.
“We expect to drive further administrative cost savings from … overall efficiencies from our technology,” Mark Bertolini, recently appointed CEO of health technology company and insurance platform Oscar Health, said on the company’s second quarter 2023 earnings.
While experts have cautioned that many of the commercially available generative AI tools are not trained specifically on healthcare data, making them inaccurate and unreliable, there still exists a large white space opportunity for the technology to play in within healthcare.
As PYMNTS wrote in April, healthcare organizations are sitting on a treasure trove of information in the form of disparate data silos, and modern AI can bridge these legacy information gaps to help organizations make better business decisions, shape better clinical outcomes, and improve the patient care and delivery experience.
As to how exactly that experience can be improved? Observers and industry players believe that areas including healthcare system workflow automation and optimization, as well as the structuring and analysis of healthcare data and ambient monitoring of patient engagements all represent priority areas where AI can have a right-now impact, as do the automation of administrative call centers and other customer service-focused efficiency captures.
And as generative AI’s capabilities evolve, and sector-specific models become further commercialized, there are attractive white space opportunities for the technology to be applied in more sophisticated and nuanced situations.
AI-based clinical decision support tools, optimized telehealth platforms and remote care delivery, along with diagnostic and treatment decisioning, are all areas where, when AI technology has matured successfully, its applications could deliver previously unimaginable treatments and care delivery outcomes.
Outside of accuracy and expertise concerns, the fact that AI tools currently exist in a regulatory and legal gray area may be holding back health systems’ adoption of the most bleeding edge AI capabilities. The most scalable first-base integrations of AI tools may be focused more on internal initiatives such as patient billing, or appointment scheduling.
Per PYMNTS research, consumers say that they like technology-driven health services, including healthcare payments.
The study, “Healthcare in the Digital Age: Consumers See Unified Platforms as Key to Better Health,” conducted with Lynx, revealed that 79% of consumers express a desire for a single digital platform that centralizes all their healthcare tasks and facilitates bill payments.
Healthcare players are not exactly standing still when it comes to experimenting with AI, either.
As recently as this week (Aug. 29), HCA Healthcare announced a partnership with Google Cloud and Augmedix, a tech company specializing in ambient medical documentation, to deploy generative AI in the emergency department. The collaboration will use AI technology to improve workflows on time-consuming tasks, such replacing clinical documentation with conversation-created medical notes via Augmedix’s text-to-speech processing, so that physicians and nurses can focus more on patient care.
A day earlier, on Monday (Aug. 28), Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield announced that, by Jan. 1, 2024, it will be adding more states to an AI-driven virtual-first health plan that leverages the innovative technology to streamline health services for patients.
And both electronic health record maker Epic and Duke Health (Duke University Health System) have announced separate, but equally innovative, partnerships with Microsoft to leverage the latter’s AI capabilities and cloud technology to improve healthcare delivery.