2020 AI survey: Confidence in artificial intelligence expands as health industry leaders project faster return on investment

59% of healthcare executives expect a full return on their AI investments within three years, up from 31% in 2018.
03:21 PM
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Healthcare executives today believe AI will deliver value for the industry faster than previously thought, according to a new survey of senior healthcare executives representing leading hospitals, health plans, life sciences organizations and employers.

The third annual Optum Survey on AI in Health Care found that 59% of respondents expect their organizations to see a full return on their AI investments in under three years. That’s up 90% since 2018, when only 31% of respondents expected to break even that quickly.

The overall anticipated time frame to achieve ROI was 3.6 years in this year’s survey, down from 5.3 years in 2018 and 4.7 years in 2019.

Confidence in recognizing cost savings from AI appeared to increase as organizations progressed on the maturity curve. Among those who identified themselves as being in the late stages of AI deployment, 57% indicated they’d achieve their ROI in less than two years, as compared to respondents in the early (33%) and mid (26%) stages.

The dramatic drop in the amount of time it will take to achieve ROI is underscored by the effects of a turbulent 2020. In fact, 47% of the leaders reported that the effects of the pandemic would delay their achievement of ROI — a finding that suggests the tailwinds of the underlying trend are much stronger than the headwinds of COVID-19 and its economic and social consequences.

AI in the current COVID-19 climate

The survey reported that the executives affirm the strategic importance of AI initiatives in healthcare and that they broadly embrace AI across the industry. Nearly all healthcare leaders—98% of them—have an AI strategy in place or plan to create one. That includes the 44% whose organizations have already implemented theirs.

In the survey, healthcare execs prioritized three applications they planned to tap AI for, and each has immediate implications in the battle against the pandemic and its economic and social consequences as we navigate forward:

Monitor data from the Internet of Things devices, such as wearable technology (40%). Internet-connected remote patient monitoring devices like these enable more complete virtual health offerings. AI can also help identify signals and trends within those data streams.

Accelerate research for new therapeutic or clinical discoveries (37%). AI can help prioritize potential investigative targets for treatments or vaccines.

Assign codes for accurate diagnosis and reimbursement (37%). This helps automate business processes to help organizations achieve more — even when resources are under duress.

AI creates demands for expertise that will take it to the next level

In broadly confirming AI’s strategic value, 95% of healthcare executives said hiring talent with experience developing AI is a priority, with 66% of executives in late stages of AI deployment strongly agreeing, compared to 42% in early and 31% in middle stages.

In addition to building AI competency itself, the ability to act upon AI-driven recommendations is critical. To that end, 92% of the surveyed executives expect that their staff who receive AI-driven insights will understand how the AI works. That finding signals the widespread need for knowledge about analytics, predictions and data streams outside of an organization’s traditional information technology or informatics teams.

Executives were split on hiring advanced analytic talent to build the AI (51%) versus business talent to apply the AI-driven results (49%).

Learn more about what healthcare execs are saying about AI’s power to:

  • Improve health outcomes
  • Reduce administrative burden
  • Enhance consumer experiences

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