Anyone in healthcare knows that cutting costs while maintaining quality care is the name of the game. However, outdated methodologies and processes remain embedded deep in some healthcare business functions. If they could be improved, there would be opportunities for real savings, as well as improved operations. Artificial intelligence (AI) holds the promise to deliver both.

Many Hospitals Are Behind in Technological Adoption

A recent article in Health IT Analytics discussed the situation of outdated operations at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) in Boston. It’s worth relating because it is a classic situation that still exists in one of the most advanced and forward-thinking hospitals in the country. The article interviewed MaulikMajmudar, MD, associate director of the Healthcare Transformation Lab at MGH, about data entry at the 1,011-bed academic teaching hospital.

“At MGH, we have probably more than 100 FTEs across all departments and divisions who manually, for the most part, enter data for registries. An AI platform can automate a lot of that work.”

If the largest teaching hospital in the Harvard Medical School network, regularly ranked as one of the best hospitals in America, is still doing manual data entry, what on earth is happening at smaller hospitals and clinics? You don’t have to be a healthcare industry expert to imagine the higher rate of errors and lower rate of productivity that comes as a result of manual work.

What Can Artificial Intelligence Do to Help in Healthcare?

The question really is “What can’t it do?” AI can automate data entry functions, rapidly analyze and assess data and provide important clinical insights. Tumor and cancer registries exist for clinicians to learn. When you add AI to the mix, you open a window of understanding based on the complex processing of trends, incidence rates, potential causes, and downstream cancers.

AI improves data management to the point where it can identify the most appropriate treatments for patients with any number of chronic diseases. It can determine whether imaging is necessary — a real challenge in today’s healthcare. Physicians today regularly wrangle with whether to order imaging for their patients. The data show that in many cases physicians order tests to gain insights into patient conditions. However, that doesn’t help them understand what the right tests are, or when the right time is to order them, for every patient. To the extent that AI can help physicians with that equation, it can help to reduce risk, improve care, and reduce costs.

AI Can Improve Understanding of the Need for Imaging

The role of artificial intelligence in healthcare was the centerpiece of discussion at the 2018 World Medical Innovation Forum.That’s where Ziad Obermeyer, MD, assistant professor of emergency medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital said AI can unlock the puzzle of when, and when not, to order patient imaging.

“Low risk patients are getting over-tested, and high-risk patients aren’t getting tested enough. Algorithms can show us where and on whom doctors are making mistakes. As we look at more and more tests through this lens, we’ll find these patterns for a lot of tests that affect millions and millions of patients.”

That is exactly how AI can help to reduce costs and create opportunities for better care. It can help physicians determine where to avoid low-value testing and where to order testing that will contribute to better patient outcomes.

AI, Data Analysis, and Predictive Analytics

When AI considers testing, it does so through the analysis of trends, extraordinarily detailed data analysis and predictive analytics. AI algorithms can indicate the type of care that should be delivered to patients, and at what time, for what conditions. AI trending can predict, based on historical data, what patients should receive care early on, before chronic disease may rear its ugly head.

Healthcare IT Analytics called AI in healthcare “turning pattern recognition into speedy action.” We think that’s well said. For example, if a physician has AI tools to make sense of a patient’s lifetime of lab reports and determine what it means for that patient’s health in the next decade or two, it can help to avoid adverse, costly health incidents in that patient’s future.

Artificial intelligence holds great promise for healthcare, it just needs to harnessed and adopted by many more healthcare organizations. It’s not time to be wary of AI, it’s time to embrace it wholeheartedly. Patients and physicians need more accurate insights to health and cost savings, as fast as they can get them.