ChatGPT, virtual nursing, remote monitoring: Top digital health trends so far in '23

Generative artificial intelligence, virtual nursing and remote patient monitoring were among the biggest digital health trends of the first half of 2023, health system digital chiefs told Becker's.

Here are the top digital health stories so far this year, according to nine chief digital officers. Their responses have been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

Rebecca Kaul, PhD. Senior Vice President and Chief of Digital Innovation and Transformation at Northwell Health (New Hyde Park, N.Y.). In 2023, the COVID-19 endemic and labor shortages, particularly in nursing, continued to push the proliferation and adoption of AI-based and telehealth solutions, enabling healthcare institutions to achieve more with less.

Telehealth, at-home care models and navigation solutions have continued expanding within, and beyond, the walls of healthcare organizations, meeting patients where they are. Within hospitals, virtual care presents the opportunity for greater nursing and specialist throughput.

AI and data science-based solutions are proliferating, providing visibility into bottlenecks, optimizing resource utilization, and enhancing patient-provider engagement and experience with decision support, automation and navigation.

Healthcare systems are increasingly focused on equitable "whole health" experiences that anticipate and meet consumer needs. Healthcare is now, with impending guardrails, beginning to solve the under-met needs of personalized care, and operational and clinical support with generative AI. Generative AI is particularly promising in areas such as personalized healthcare, clinical and drug discovery, and population health where large datasets are needed to drive the next best course of action.

The transformation of healthcare to meet the needs of tomorrow, however, is ultimately built on the foundation of systemic and platform-based approaches that can lower technical debt, provide computing scale, and provide the foundation on which to deliver the next generation of data-driven intelligence.

Tony Ambrozie. Senior Vice President and Chief Digital and Information Officer for Baptist Health South Florida (Coral Gables). By far, the most significant digital story of 2023, for all of us as well as our companies, including in healthcare, has been and still is the revelation of AI large language models based on GPT technologies. I write in my upcoming book, Doing Digital, in more detail about this topic but, in summary, LLMs are the big story for three reasons. 

First, because these are foundational models — i.e. not narrow-domain trained — they can be used very broadly in a vast array of areas inside company operations (subject to controls on privacy and the risk of hallucinations, etc). And through the application programming interfaces provided by these LLM vendors, they can be embedded and injected in any new or existing systems in more ways than we can imagine.

Second, the technology is widely available (through ChatGPT, Bard, etc.) to all consumers. It does not require technical or data science skills (other than some basic prompt engineering) for everybody to use and therefore understand at the most instinctual level, its power.

Third, related to the previous point, companies, boards, executive teams and employees are now able to appreciate better the power of AI and machine learning models. Most of us have been building and deploying ML models broadly for quite some years, but outside the data teams, everybody else understood little about how this technology works and more importantly, what we can do with it. ChatGPT and Bard created an iPhone-like moment: everybody understands now what one can do with it and thus everybody can become a designer of AI-infused experiences and systems, thus expanding the AI/ML adoption. 

This is a still developing story by all means. We are now seeing a variety of smaller commercial players or even open-source communities offering good-enough models, some small enough to be used on edge or consumer devices. So, I think the path has opened to very intelligent on-device personal assistants.

Should we just all jump in and use this technology whenever and wherever we can, driven by the fear of missing out? I certainly don't think so; instead, we should be thoughtful and measured (as Tim Cook said in an interview) on where we start, prioritizing and focusing not on the technology (that is evolving very fast anyway) but on meaningful digital outcomes for consumers or staff.

In addition, in healthcare, we need to solve important issues such as privacy and especially accuracy. Hallucinations when summarizing medical records, patient visits or treatments are certainly dangerous risks to avoid. But these are solvable problems.

Jared Antczak. Chief Digital Officer of Sanford Health (Sioux Falls, S.D.). At Sanford Health, the digital health trends we've been focused on in 2023 are the opportunities where we can leverage digital solutions to enhance consumer engagement and simultaneously alleviate workforce challenges, particularly across the rural footprint we serve. 

For example, many patients would prefer to schedule an appointment, register for their visit or pay their bill on their own devices, at their convenience. Using digital health tools to automate these tasks not only provides a more seamless experience for patients but also helps solve staffing shortages.

Of course, artificial intelligence has been the big buzzword this year. Open AI released ChatGPT to the public in Q4 of 2022, and there has been a flurry of interest in identifying potential areas of application not only for large language models and generative AI but the broader application of AI in general to assist, augment and automate our workforce. We have already developed predictive analytics to more precisely schedule clinical staff based on patient demand forecasting and to identify people who might be at risk for a variety of disease states. This has helped to improve employee satisfaction, increase operational efficiency, and improve clinical outcomes by focusing our resources on the areas that can have the greatest impact.

We continue to be intentional about identifying the most important opportunities, defining the value proposition, and focusing limited resources on the solutions that will make the most difference for our patients and our people. We are committed to investing in the latest digital health trends that will honor consumer preferences and expectations while generating value for our organization.

Crystal Broj. Chief Digital Transformation Officer of MUSC Health (Charleston, S.C.). Healthcare is always morphing and adapting, even if it seems slower than its counterparts in retail and other spaces.

There are the shiny things: like ChatGPT, which we heard nothing about in 2022, and yet in the first part of 2023 every tech company wants to be able to tell me how they've encompassed it into their product. (Most health systems aren't quite ready for it, because of training and governance structures that need to be in place.)

There are the practical things: like repurposing all the great virtual health work that was done during COVID to be a relevant way to improve outcomes while reducing cost and assisting with overloaded providers.

Healthcare rarely jumps on fast trends, but instead spends time watching and learning and then implementing solutions that solve a specific problem — more often with a tangible return on investment, rather than trying something because it is a trend.

Jeffrey Sturman. Senior Vice President and Chief Digital Officer of Memorial Healthcare System (Hollywood, Fla.). There continue to be a lot of emerging trends around digital health — with virtual health, generative AI, patient flow, predictive analytics, and patient/consumer engagement all being priorities. There are many solutions that we are investing in to help achieve a more proactive, easier, accessible, and higher level of quality to care delivery. 

Generative AI (e.g., ChatGPT) has probably been one of the biggest stories and trends for 2023. We have already seen this take root through the advent of use in automating physician documentation, capturing narrative data for proactive care in our multichannel scheduling processes, as well as the prediction of clinical diagnosis.

Further, we all are trying to solve the problem of access to care. Telehealth, virtual nursing, remote patient monitoring, and patient flow solutions can all contribute to a much more efficient care delivery process and help with access points, while also generating a higher level of satisfaction, quality, and even revenue capture.

Michael Mainiero. Senior Vice President and Chief Digital and Information Officer of Catholic Health (Rockville Centre, N.Y.). In the first half of 2023, digital trends continued to increase in the healthcare industry, leading to improved healthcare delivery for patients and providers. Our health system and many others are implementing generative AI, large language models, and automation to develop future-proof digital strategies that enhance healthcare delivery by increasing efficiency and effectiveness.

In addition to these trends, AI-enabled cybersecurity has become vital in protecting sensitive health data and ensuring the confidentiality of patient information.

Remote patient monitoring is also gaining popularity in 2023, allowing healthcare providers to deliver more efficient and convenient care to patients in their homes. RPM is a versatile tool that enables care teams to monitor various vital parameters and conditions, such as weight, blood pressure, lung capacity, pulse, oxygen levels, blood glucose levels, temperature, and pain management. By utilizing RPM, healthcare providers can offer personalized, effective, and timely care to patients, regardless of their location.

Zafar Chaudry, MD. Senior Vice President and Chief Digital and Information Officer of Seattle Children's. Some of the biggest digital health trends in 2023 include the continued growth of telehealth and the rise of wearable devices, although healthcare organizations will have to factor in that not all patients have the best or latest end-user devices or internet connectivity; the increasing use of artificial intelligence including use cases for diagnosis, treatment planning, and patient monitoring; the development of new digital therapeutics, software or device based interventions that are designed to treat or manage conditions such as chronic pain, mental health and behavioral health; and an expanded focus on patient engagement.

Edmondo Robinson, MD. Senior Vice President and Chief Digital Officer of Moffitt Cancer Center (Tampa, Fla.). The first big story for the first half of 2023 has to be the growing impact of AI, specifically large language models, on healthcare. Increasingly, these technologies will have real and tangible impacts on the everyday lives of clinicians as well as patients.

Second big story (not getting enough press though): the impact of financial challenges that providers are going through on their ability to execute on their digital strategies. There is also a related fallout on digital health start-up companies as they struggle to gain traction and customers during these challenging economic times for healthcare providers.

Aaron Miri. Senior Vice President and Chief Digital and Information Officer of Baptist Health (Jacksonville, Fla.). The biggest stories this year, so far, have revolved around generative AI, robotic process automation at wide scale, and the launch of the national data superhighway: the Trusted Exchange Framework and Common Agreement, or TEFCA. The technical trends are all around automation and getting out of the business of so much manual overhead while ensuring that data is accessible and not "blocked" for any legitimate healthcare purposes.

Nontechnically, the forthcoming HTI-1 final ruling from ONC and recently given recommendations from the HITAC will be the game changer to watch from a regulatory perspective as that rule will begin to set the national framework for responsible decision support interventions.

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