Jonathan Bush: 'Let's give AI the decidedly unsexy job of cleaning out the administrative muck' in healthcare

To really make headway with artificial intelligence, healthcare should think smaller than "headline-grabbing moonshots," and instead, make computers tackle healthcare's most mundane tasks, athenahealth President, CEO and Chairman Jonathan Bush writes in an op-ed for the Harvard Business Review.

"Excessive paperwork and red-tape is the sewage of modern medicine," he writes, adding that inefficient administration results in an estimated 14 percent of wasted healthcare spending. "Let's give AI the decidedly unsexy job of cleaning out the administrative muck that's clogging up our medical organizations, sucking value out of our economy, and literally making doctors ill with stress."

Mr. Bush writes that other breakthroughs in healthcare, like the first organ transplant or robotic surgery, are often hailed as "heroic," but the most valuable advancements in healthcare tend to be more simple such as handwashing before births and C-sections.

He suggests on aspect of health AI could tackle is faxes, which remain a common method of communication in the industry. Some of the faxes providers receive have nothing to do with their organization, nor do they contain any structured text, which leaves it up to staff to decipher each document — a task that takes, on average, two minutes and 30 seconds. Athenahealth, however, married machine learning with business-process outsourcing to automate the categorizing of faxes. The solution has reduced time-per-fax for its practices to one minute and 11 seconds.

"We are in the midst of a burnout crisis among U.S. physicians. They're crushed by administrative overload and feel they are becoming box-tickers rather than clinicians," Mr. Bush writes. "Applying AI to the work that doctors detest presents a path to redemption for the health IT industry … We need to rebuild confidence in the promise of technology to free up provider time and enhance care delivery."

Mr. Bush believes that using AI to automate physicians' everyday tasks could pave the way for other, bigger developments, like a cure for cancer. "Using AI to relieve scut work will allow them to focus again on what they love most and where they create the most value: the patient encounter," he writes.

Click here to read Mr. Bush's complete op-ed.

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