As Forbes notes, the impact of artificial intelligence will be felt across a wide swath of industries, but its implications are arguably the most profound in healthcare:
“Artificial intelligence’s (AI) transformative power is reverberating across many industries, but in one—healthcare—its impact promises to be truly life-changing. From hospital care to clinical research, drug development and insurance, AI applications are revolutionizing how the health sector works to reduce spending and improve patient outcomes. The total public and private sector investment in healthcare AI is stunning: All told, it is expected to reach $6.6 billion by 2021, according to some estimates. Even more staggering, Accenture predicts that the top AI applications may result in annual savings of $150 billion by 2026.”
WHAT IS ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE (AI)?
It’s not necessary for the lion’s share of health care professionals to grasp the nuances of artificial intelligence systems—how they do what they do, in other words. It is however important for them to understand in general terms how those systems work—and how they’ll impact the jobs they perform every day.
Stated simply, artificial intelligence is computer software that leverages machine and deep learning to mimic the thinking processes of human beings—things like using data to make better decisions and incorporating learning to improve performance on previous experience. Said differently, computers and software that leverage AI can “think.” It is this ability to think and to learn the way people do—to in other words make decisions and direct processes independent of human intervention—that distinguishes AI from other technological advances, such as customer relationship management (CRM) and automation platforms.
HOW BIG WILL THE IMPACT OF AI ON HEALTHCARE BE?
Although already transforming some aspects of healthcare (initial usage is more on the administrative and operational as opposed to the clinical side of the industry), AI, as it applies to healthcare, is still in its infancy stage. But 2 principal factors are likely to accelerate its adoption and the ways in which it’s used:
- Technological advances: promising new applications of AI—particularly those which can harness the power of big data—are advancing exponentially, dramatically increasing the ways in which machine learning can be used; and
- Education: healthcare practitioners are only now beginning to understand both what AI is and its relevance and uses in their areas of expertise—from diagnosticians to surgeons, nurses, administrators, customer service specialists and marketers, as more healthcare professionals understand the implications and benefits of AI to their work, its adoption will increase.
WHERE WILL THE GREATEST IMPACT OF AI IN HEALTHCARE BE?
Adoption rates of AI applications is, as noted above, already strong in several key healthcare areas. For example, according to analysis from McKinsey, almost half of all healthcare organizations are currently using AI applications in their service operations, along with almost 30% in product development, 21% in supply chain management, 18% in human resources and 17% in marketing and sales.
The influence of AI in those areas will almost certainly ramp up, but the biggest impact of artificial intelligence in healthcare will be in the diagnosis and treatment of patients. Specifically, the areas of healthcare which are among those which will likely have the greatest impact are the following 3:
1. ROBOTIC SURGERIES
A recent study published in Harvard Business Review found that when robots were used to assist orthopedic surgeons, patients experienced 5 times fewer post-operation complications compared to surgeons who worked without such assistance. Admittedly, that’s only one study limited to orthopedics—but the ability of robots to perform and assist with surgical procedures more generally are well documented and incontrovertibly promising.
Robots are especially effective not only in assisting doctors during surgeries but also in the analysis of medical records prior to surgical procedures. That AI analysis reduces the length of patient hospital stays post-surgery by more than 20%. This is in large part because the data robots provide enable less invasive surgeries, and for that reason decreased healing time.
2. VIRTUAL NURSING ASSISTANTS
The “virtual nursing assistant” is AI software that facilitates communications with patients throughout the care process. Typically, these AI applications assist with things like directing patients to the best hospital or physician to meet their medical needs and sending reminders about upcoming medical appointments.
Among their benefits to patients and healthcare settings is their 24/7 availability. To be clear, such software goes beyond the traditional voice mail decision tree to a process that leverages AI to make intelligent decisions based on the analysis of patient data and input. Virtual nursing assistants are so promising that they are expected to reduce healthcare costs by as much $20 billion a year as they simultaneously improve patient care and service.
3. DIAGNOSING PATIENTS
The use of artificial intelligence to diagnose patients is not as pervasive as uses in other areas of healthcare—but several recent studies show great promise and a strong likelihood that providing accurate diagnoses using AI will increase in the next 5 to 10 years. In one such study from Stanford, AI software performed as effectively as dermatologists in identifying certain skin cancers. In another, AI outperformed human beings in analyzing tone of voice and other key factors to detect which callers were suffering cardiac arrest (with 93% accuracy compared to less than 75% for human counterparts).
The future of artificial intelligence software applications to improve patient treatment and communications, sharpen the focus of healthcare professionals on those tasks only they can perform and provide a more cost-effective strategy for healthcare organizations appears both bright and promising. But these and similar innovations will not eliminate the need for human intervention, nor will they obviate the need for healthcare organizations to effectively market their services to prospective customers.
Businesses of all kinds—including those in the healthcare sector, will still need to design user-friendly, content-rich websites and devise effective digital marketing strategies to remain competitive. Fortunately, there are experienced marketing agencies who can provide the advice and guidance businesses need to succeed.
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