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For now, AI’s biggest potential to improve healthcare isn’t the sexy stuff | HIMSS 2024

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Healthcare leaders say AI will change the industry, but experts on a panel at the HIMSS Conference say the early wins will come with reducing business burdens for clinicians.

Orlando, Florida – During a panel on AI in healthcare at the HIMSS Global Health Conference & Exhibition Monday, the panelists weren’t trying to echo Justin Timberlake.

Image: Ron Southwick, Chief Healthcare Executive

Experts discuss AI in healthcare at the HIMSS Global Health Conference & Exhibition in Orlando, Florida.

They weren’t talking about bringing “sexy” back.

To be sure, they all attested that artificial intelligence offers the potential to transform healthcare and could eventually bring better care to patients.

Alexander Ding, MD, a member of the board of trustees at the American Medical Association, said he thinks the earliest potential for AI could be outside the clinical realm, such as expanding solutions to reduce documentation or business headaches. The AMA also refers to AI as “augmented intelligence,” as a tool to assist physicians.

“I think AI has the biggest potential today on really all of the unsexy stuff,” Ding said.

It may not seem as cutting-edge as using AI to detect patients at risk of stroke or serious illnesses, but Ding notes that using AI to ease some bureaucratic hassles for doctors could be the key to addressing the widespread burnout among physicians.

Ding pointed to studies that show about 2 out of 3 doctors experience some symptoms of burnout. AI-powered solutions that record and summarize conversations with patients could help with the workload. AI tools to automatically handle the claims process, coding, and billing could ease some pressures on physicians and keep them in the profession.

“There's an epidemic of professional disengagement and dissatisfaction. And one of those reasons, is administrative burden … I actually think that's where AI has the most opportunity to streamline workflows,” Ding said.

Sunil Dadlani, chief Information and digital officer and chief information security officer at Atlantic Health System in New Jersey, said AI is already transforming the industry.

“There's not a single area which has not been impacted by AI,” Dadlani said. “You know, whether it's a critical area, non-clinical area, administrative or, marketing, legal, you name it, it's going to impact everywhere.”

However, Dadlani said organizations can make mistakes by getting caught up in “the sexiness” of AI technology. He pointed out that can lead to systems adopting dozens of use cases that don’t move forward.

Rather, Dadlani says health organizations need to identify “the problem that you’re trying to solve.”

For now, many organizations are less focused on clinical solutions for AI, since they require a higher threshold of validation to be used safely in patient care, he said.

“Obviously most of the organizations are trying to solve the problem on the administrative side and operational efficiency side,” Dadlani said. Some also are focusing on patient engagement and the patient experience, he noted.

Health systems should be less worried about cutting-edge technologies and focus more on the challenges they need to address, he said.

“Start with the use case. Never start with the technology,” Dadlani said.

Brian Anderson, MD, the CEO of the Coalition of Health AI, a nonprofit aimed to promoting the responsible use of AI in medicine, also cited the growing burnout among physicians. He said the biggest concern of many healthcare executives is the shortage of physicians.

“Providers are overworked,” Anderson said. “The health system doesn’t have enough of them.”

Anderson said one of “the great promises” of AI is increasing access and making it easier for patients to navigate the system and find the right doctor for their needs, either through telehealth or “in an augmented way.”

As Anderson said, “The challenge though, then becomes if we're creating all this access, all this ability to engage with the healthcare system, how in the world are we going to help providers on the supply side meet that demand?”

While seeing the possibility for making it easier for patients in rural communities and inner-city neighborhoods to find physicians, he said the key question is using AI to help create more access “safely and effectively.”

At the same time, Anderson said the healthcare industry doesn’t have a precise agreement on the definition of the responsible use of AI in healthcare. He points to the lack of agreement on measuring the performance and accuracy of large language models.

“If you can't measure what you want to manage, you're in a really tough spot,” Anderson said.

“We don't have an agreement on how we define these basic concepts, around what responsible, fair, equitable, safe, effective AI looks like, particularly in the generative AI space,” Anderson said. “I'd say that's perhaps the most urgent thing that we need to do is define what those terms are.”

The industry needs to come up with consensus, he said.

“That is the thing that urgently we as a community need to come to agreement with, before we start implementing AI in some of these really consequential areas, like clinical decision support,” Anderson said, adding, “If the tool is flawed, you don't want that tool close to the provider.”

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