Healthcare AI poised for explosive growth, big cost savings

Accenture report expects robot-assisted surgery, virtual nursing assistants, workflow tools and more offering huge potential to make patient care more efficient.
By Mike Miliard
03:03 PM

Artificial intelligence "is rewiring our modern conception of healthcare delivery," according to a new Accenture report that shows an array of clinical AI applications are already well on their way to saving the industry $150 billion over the next 10 years.

In the shorter term, the report forecasts a 40 percent compound annual growth rate between now and 2021, with acquisitions of AI startups proceeding at a feverish pace.

[Also: With machine learning and AI in healthcare, can you speak the language?]

The technology represents "a significant opportunity for industry players to manage their bottom line in a new payment landscape," according to the report, which examined 10 different AI applications, ranked by their potential for cost savings.
Robot-assisted surgery – $40 billion
Virtual nursing assistants – $20 billion
Administrative workflow assistance – $18 billion
Fraud detection – $17 billion
Dosage error reduction – $16 billion
Connected machines – $14 billion
Clinical trial participant identifier – $13 billion
Preliminary diagnosis – $5 billion
Automated image diagnosis – $3 billion
Cybersecurity – $2 billion
"As these, and other AI applications gain more experience in the field, their ability to learn and act will continually lead to improvements in precision, efficiency and outcomes," said Accenture researchers.

But as the industry rushes headlong to embrace a technology that "thinks and pays for itself," there are some important considerations to keep in mind, according to the report.

[Also: As AI spreads through healthcare, ethical questions arise]

First, it's key to plan for the way the healthcare workforce will be affected as the nature of employment changes with automation. It's a tricky challenge to "make the best use of both humans and AI talent," but it can be done. "For instance, AI voice-enabled symptom checkers triage patients to lower-cost retail or urgent care settings and direct patients to the emergency department only when emergency care is necessary."

Sound organizational strategy is also critical. To make the most AI, hospitals should make expertise in emerging technology a central part of their structure and governance: "For instance, assigning a lead who is tasked with keeping apprised of AI adoption within the organization," according to the report. "Governance and the operating model should also be revamped to align with an AI-enabled organization."

Patient engagement is another emerging avenue for artificial intelligence: Consumers are increasingly used to AI tools, and see them as useful and valuable. AI "can magnify care reach by integrating health data across platforms," said researchers. "However, as new technology is introduced, various data sources must be connected to enable a seamless experience for patients."

Finally, security is a critical concern. "Parties in the ecosystem will need to work together in an ethical way, and be secure in how they manage critical information on patients," according to the report. "As AI delivers benefits of greater efficiency, transparency and interoperability, organizations must maintain a clear focus on informational security."

Twitter: @MikeMiliardHITN
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