Health Tech, MedCity Influencers, Patient Engagement, Artificial Intelligence

The value of a human-centric, AI-powered approach to healthcare

Many healthcare companies are examining ways to incorporate AI to improve safety, efficiency and the overall patient experience. However, as companies continue to prioritize this technology, it’s important to focus on finding the right applications, rather than just using it to replace humans.

Over the past several years, big data, artificial intelligence and machine learning have seen explosive growth across industries like entertainment and commerce. AI has been integrated into shopping experiences to provide chatbot services, analyze customer comments and offer personalized approaches to online shoppers. It has also been employed to make daily experiences — like GPS-based navigation — more convenient.

More recently, these technological innovations have been making their way into healthcare. In fact, the global healthcare AI market generated $8.23 billion in 2020, and is estimated to reach $194.4 billion by 2030, according to Allied Market Research.

There are many cases where the technology will have an incredible impact on payers, providers, and perhaps most importantly, patients. AI applications are making their way into the mainstream through innovations like robot-assisted surgery and predictive analytics to help optimize hospital spending. And many healthcare companies are examining ways to incorporate the technology to improve safety, efficiency and the overall patient experience.

However, as companies continue to prioritize AI, it is important to focus on finding the right applications, rather than just using it to replace humans. This will enable us to improve efficiencies while maintaining a positive consumer experience.

Emerging uses for AI in healthcare 

The availability of healthcare data has increased exponentially due to the widespread use of systems such as electronic medical records, wearables and remote patient monitoring devices. In fact, healthcare is currently generating approximately 30% of the world’s entire data volume.

We’re seeing an advancement in disease prediction and detection as a result of more data and predictive AI that can help doctors see patterns and take proactive steps. However, to parse all this data, the nurses and doctors trying to interpret it may sometimes require technological support. This has created a huge opportunity for the use of technologies like chatbots.

Chatbots can be used for evaluating symptoms and triaging patients, scheduling appointments and performing initial intake conversations with new patients. As the technology advances, Insider Intelligence estimates that up to 73% of healthcare administrative tasks could be automated by AI, and the adoption of chatbots could save the healthcare, banking and retail sectors a combined $11 billion annually by 2023.

The ability to automate everyday tasks is especially appealing as the U.S. healthcare system continues to feel the strain of the Covid-19 pandemic and faces a shortage of medical professionals. However, when it comes to more complex tasks like diagnostics, organizations must remember that chatbots and other AI implementations do have shortcomings. That’s especially true in healthcare where each case is unique and each patient has different confounding factors.

A human-centric approach 

While there are clear benefits to using AI, it is best utilized and most powerful when combined with human interaction and the ability to offer truly empathic emotional support. Empathy is an oft-discussed topic during physician training because research has shown that displays of empathy can improve patient outcomes and satisfaction.

Since AI cannot technically “think” for itself and requires additional information gathered from conversations to adapt and learn new scenarios, there can be hiccups when it’s presented with unrecognized information or problems. That’s why a hybrid approach is ideal for patient care. This model involves automating some tasks to reduce the burden on healthcare providers, while offering patients the empathy and personalized approach from people that they require and deserve.

For example, with AI-assisted nurse chats, patients are able to connect directly with a live nurse who receives support from predictive AI technology. This allows nurses to offer individualized care while attending to more patients at once. That reduces the burden on the nurse while still enabling patients to receive high-quality input and counsel about their condition and the best next steps. A combination of AI and human interaction also seems to appeal to patients. A study published last year in npj Digital Medicine showed that many are enthusiastic about the technology, but to feel more comfortable with it, they want clinicians to be present during the encounter.

The future of care 

As AI and other advanced technologies continue to proliferate within healthcare, payers and providers must remember the ever-present need for human support to help this digital transformation succeed. With the right combination of clinician support and AI, the technology is poised to transform the industry and the future of care, enabling simpler, less fragmented interactions that ultimately result in better patient experiences and improved outcomes.

Photo: metamorworks, Getty Images

Sameer Khanna serves as the Senior Vice President of Engineering at Pager, a leading virtual care, navigation, and collaboration platform. In this role, he leads the organization's technology development to deliver innovative virtual care solutions to health plans and their members. Prior to his time at Pager, Sameer held multiple engineering leadership roles in the e-commerce industry. Sameer graduated from New York University with a master’s degree in Computer Science and from Rochester Institute of Technology with a bachelor's degree in Information Technology.

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