AI and machine learning trends to look toward in 2020

As artificial intelligence and robotic process automation are more widely deployed, they will help rehumanize medicine by allowing doctors to focus less on paperwork and administrative functions, and more on patient care.
By Nathan Eddy
11:05 AM

Artificial intelligence and machine learning will play an even bigger role in healthcare in 2020 than they did in 2019, helping medical professionals with everything from oncology screenings to note-taking.

On top of actual deployments, increased investment activity is also expected this year, and with deeper deployments of AI and ML technology, a broader base of test cases will be available to collect valuable best practices information.

As AI is implemented more widely in real-world clinical practice, there will be more academic reports on the clinical benefits that have arisen from the real-world use, said Pete Durlach, senior vice president for healthcare strategy and new business development at Nuance.

"With healthy clinical evidence, we'll see AI become more mainstream in various clinical settings, creating a positive feedback loop of more evidence-based research and use in the field," he explained. "Soon, it will be hard to imagine a doctor's visit, or a hospital stay that doesn't incorporate AI in numerous ways."

In addition, AI and ambient sensing technology will help re-humanize medicine by allowing doctors to focus less on paperwork and administrative functions, and more on patient care.

"As AI becomes more commonplace in the exam room, everything will be voice enabled, people will get used to talking to everything, and doctors will be able to spend 100% of their time focused on the patient, rather than entering data into machines," Durlach predicted. "We will see the exam room of the future where clinical documentation writes itself."

The adoption of AI for robotic process automation ("RPA") for common and high value administrative functions such as the revenue cycle, supply chain and patient scheduling also has the potential to rapidly increase as AI helps automate or partially automate components of these functions, driving significantly enhanced financial outcomes to provider organizations.

Durlach also noted the fear that AI will replace doctors and clinicians has dissipated, and the goal now is to figure out how to incorporate AI as another tool to help physicians make the best care decisions possible – effectively augmenting the intelligence of the clinician.

"However, we will still need to protect against phenomenon like alert fatigue, which occurs when users who are faced with many low-level alerts, ignore alerts of all levels, thereby missing crucial ones that can affect the health and safety of patients," he cautioned.

In the next few years, he predicts the market will see a technology that finds a balance between being too obtrusive while supporting doctors to make the best decisions for their patients as the learn to trust the AI powered suggestions and recommendations.

"So many technologies claim they have an AI component, but often there's a blurred line in which the term AI is used in a broad sense, when the technology that's being described is actually basic analytics or machine learning," Kuldeep Singh Rajput, CEO and founder of Boston-based Biofourmis, told Healthcare IT News. "Health system leaders looking to make investments in AI should ask for real-world examples of how the technology is creating ROI for other organizations."

For example, he pointed to a study of Brigham & Women's Home Hospital program, recently published in Annals of Internal Medicine, which employed AI-driven continuous monitoring combined with advanced physiology analytics and related clinical care as a substitute for usual hospital care.

The study found that the program--which included an investment in AI-driven predictive analytics as a key component--reduced costs, decreased healthcare use, and lowered readmissions while increasing physical activity compared with usual hospital care.

"Those types of outcomes could be replicated by other healthcare organizations, which makes a strong clinical and financial case to invest in that type of AI," Rajput said.

Nathan Eddy is a healthcare and technology freelancer based in Berlin.
Email the writer: nathaneddy@gmail.com
Twitter: @dropdeaded209

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