Pandemic pressures point to need for targeted AI investment

Given numerous pressing workforce trends and the potential of AI, says one data industry stakeholder, healthcare organizations know the answer is to innovate while navigating difficult financial realities.

Jeff Rowe | Oct 12, 2020 12:00 am

Among all the other challenges it brings, a pandemic makes it more difficult than ever for healthcare executives to determine where and how to invest in their organization’s future.  But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

That’s one way of summing up a recent commentary by tech executive Mark Dobbs, of Pure Storage, who points to the importance of investing in AI as organizations struggle to survive, then rebuild from, the financial pressures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Anyone who has entered a healthcare facility in recent weeks can immediately see that things are very different,” Dobbs points out, “from social distancing, patients and providers in masks, and sparsely populated waiting rooms. Waiting rooms are not just sparsely populated due to COVID social distance restrictions as individuals continue to defer care.”

Indeed, he cites recent research that found “that use of services remains low, with emergency department visits down 25 percent  . . . compared to pre-COVID volumes – making it the hardest hit department. Inpatient volumes were down 9 percent. Many facilities are experiencing extreme financial pressure; operating margins at hospitals are down 96 percent through July . . .”

The pressure from such numbers is only going to increase, Dobbs says, as healthcare organizations work through the backlog of cases that piled up through the heart of the lockdown. For example, “an estimated 40 million mammography procedures are performed in the United States annually. At the height of the pandemic, the need to delay or cancel appointments equates to nearly 770,000 delayed mammography procedures per week. As patients start to resume normal care, radiology staff must reschedule procedures efficiently and safely, optimizing their resources as best as possible.”

So what does all this mean as healthcare providers work to restart their work and revenue flows?  

In one area, says Dobbs, the pandemic has put “a spotlight on the need for expanded use of AI and machine learning in imaging,” which can improve diagnoses, increase clinician job satisfaction and, critically, have a positive impact on an institution’s financial health.

In particular, when it comes to AI, Dobbs argues “healthcare organizations need to create a modern data experience. They already got a taste of what it’s like to innovate faster, as pressured by the pandemic and quick shift to telehealth. But now, six months later, healthcare organizations are grappling with immense financial pressures. They want to continue to accelerate investment, but they must invest smarter than ever during austere financial times. Enabling a modern data experience is an investment that yields both short and long-term dividends.”

In short, Dobb says, in view of “pressing workforce trends” and the potential of AI and teleradiology, the key for healthcare organizations moving forward is to innovate while navigating difficult financial realities.  In other words, “to invest wisely to lay a strong data foundation – one that will aid clinical operations immediately but serve as the crucial long-term investment to fuel future innovation and weather any future challenges.”