There is a lot of hype surrounding AI systems and their potential to replace doctors and nurses, however the real promise lies in these technologies’ ability to augment healthcare through guided self-care, and by freeing healthcare professionals from burdensome administrative duties.
AI will augment human experience, access and efficiency in healthcare
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a paradigm shifter that is fundamentally reimagining industries from banking to insurance to IT services and beyond. However, healthcare stands out as an industry that is not only most in need of AI-driven transformation, but one where these technologies will have the greatest human impact.
Healthcare systems around the world are under increasing stress from aging populations and shrinking pools of qualified workers. This shortage is approaching crisis levels in the UK, where an already-critical nurse shortage has accelerated following Brexit and pension rules have led to a mass exodus in senior general practitioners. Some studies estimate a global shortage of nearly 33 million healthcare staff by 2030. The good news is that scaling services to meet growing user demand is precisely the type of problem at which AI excels.
Cognitive agents won’t replace nurses or doctors, they will assist them
There is a lot of hype about AI’s ability to completely replace doctors the same way that machines have replaced highway toll-takers or bank tellers, however the promise of cognitive healthcare isn’t in automation as much as it is in augmentation.
“We really see a huge potential to augment the experience, augment quality, augment access, and augment obviously the efficiency in healthcare,” explains David Champeaux, IPsoft’s Global Cognitive Healthcare Solutions Director who lead a panel on the promise of cognitive healthcare during the recent Digital Workforce Summit.
AI will work with people – patients, home caregivers, and health professionals – to reinvent the entire health ecosystem from end to end. In the near-term, the potential for these technologies will be two-fold: 1) freeing healthcare workers from burdensome administrative duties so they can concentrate on patients, and 2) enabling patients and family caregivers to manage their own healthcare.
In advanced economies, cognitive solutions have the potential to bolster stressed, but still-functioning healthcare systems, but they represent a lifeline in the developing world where already-flailing systems will be severely tested by the global workforce shortage. “We have a shortage of doctors and nurses and healthcare staff across the world and by 2030, you'll have nearly a shortage of 33 million healthcare staff [globally]," said Dr. Niti Pall, the Medical Director of KPMG’s Global Health Practice.
“It's much beyond these [US] shores that we're talking about. It's not the mature markets we're talking about. We guys here have some degree of healthcare shortages for staff, but across the world, when you go across to Southeast Asia and to Africa, these are really compounded,” Pall said.
“For me in emerging economies, [cognitive healthcare] is not a nice thing to have or something we might have down the road, it’s a matter of life or death,” explained Pall, “We simply don’t have the doctors or nurses [in these regions], so it’s very important we start to look at virtual agents to augment the care.”
“[In current healthcare models] we’re taking care back to a model that used to be very common 100 years ago – for the very wealthy,” said Sumit Nagpal, a Managing Director and Global Lead for Digital Health Strategy at Accenture. “The very wealthy could bring a doctor to their home when they got sick. People who couldn’t afford that wound up eventually going to these very expensive, very inefficient, somewhat unsafe places that we call ‘hospitals’ today. What we are doing is taking the kind of care that the very wealthy enjoyed and bringing it to everyone.”
Nagpal went on to explain how in today’s system, when a patient visits an emergency rooms, they are typically sent “upstairs to a hospital bed for three to five days.” With the help of a virtual agent like Amelia, patients would be freed to manage their care from home, while still under virtual observation from healthcare professionals. It is cheaper and far more efficient and for care to take place in a home setting, and more importantly, it’s more comfortable and convenient for patients.
Amelia can play the role of intermediary between patients and doctors, making it more efficient for caregivers while simultaneously enhancing patient experiences overall. For example, Russ Esposito, the Chief Information Officer of the North American Partners in Anesthesia (NAPA), foresees the potential of Amelia to lead patients through the pre- and post-surgical process.
“How much more interesting would it be if [patients] could call Amelia and have a dialog and have a conversation about their health? Again, [patients could access Amelia] 24/7 and have that information passed to the anesthesiologist,” Esposito told DWS attendees. “Then there's the part of the post-procedure. Pain management, outcome management. Have Amelia 24/7 talk to our patients about pain management or their outcomes. Get that information to the right practitioner and at the right time. There are so many things we can do.”
Cognitive technologies can be particularly effective at augmenting care related to chronic ailments. Managing long-term conditions (LTCs) accounts for 86% of medical costs in the US. A cognitive agent like Amelia can help mitigate these costs for both individuals and healthcare systems by empowering patients to independently handle the routine (and often expensive) care associated with LTCs. Patients can self-manage appointments, prescriptions, and tests. Furthermore, she can assist patients and/or home caregivers to administer and track home readings and proactively take action when necessary.
Healthcare is a particularly difficult field to innovate given each country’s particular industry regulations and requirements. AI needs to be implemented carefully with proper expectations in place to avoid expensive missteps. “We believe that machine learning and AI can universally and globally dramatically improve outcomes and reduce the cost of care,” said Greg Miller, a SVP Strategy & International Market Development with Health Catalyst during the DWS panel. “It should be pervasive as well, but applied in a way that is pragmatic and incremental. Not this big bang moon shot kind of approach.”
The expert panel at DWS made clear that AI systems, particularly digital colleagues like Amelia, can enable an end-to-end and scalable transformation in healthcare that will deliver better patient experiences, while augmenting the work of doctors, nurses and caregivers.
More DWS Coverage
- Chetan Dube, IPsoft: The ROI on AI & Amelia Solutions
- Edwin van Bommel, IPsoft: Generating ROI for Your Business Through IPsoft’s Marketplace
- Max Tegmark, MIT: The Acceleration of AI Is Transforming Business Practices
- Christopher Manning, Stanford University: Inside Amelia’s Brain
- Anthony Abbattista, Deloitte: The True Impact of AI
- Panel Discussion: Lessons Learned from AI Pioneers
- Panel Discussion: How IPsoft’s Clients Innovate and Improve Business with Amelia
- Panel Discussion: AI Deployment Surprises and Strategy