Artificial intelligence in healthcare: 6 health IT executives on what to expect over the next 20 years

Artificial intelligence is gaining ground in healthcare. In 2012, there were fewer than 20 artificial intelligence startups focused on healthcare; last year there were almost 70, according to CB Insights.

Additionally, the AI for healthcare sector is expected to drive overall AI market growth over the next six years, according to a MarketsandMarkets report. The overall AI market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 62.9 percent from 2016 to 2022, when it's projected to reach $16.6 billion.

Here, six health IT company executives discuss how AI will impact healthcare over the next 20 years.

Mudit Garg. Co-Founder and CEO of Qventus (Los Altos, Calif.): "Many people today like to imagine a world where AI can replace doctors. But the problem with the U.S. healthcare system isn't our providers — people fly from around the world to get treated by them. Instead, it's the ability to reliably provide an operational environment that allows these world-class clinicians to do their best work. This may seem boring and unsexy compared to the 'robo-surgeon' but it's where we have the biggest opportunities to improve the patient experience and reduce cost of delivering care.

We don't have to wait 20 years to see how AI can make an impact; its results are already being felt in many hospitals today. It's helping improve the flow of patients through the ED, reduce surgery delays and cancellations and eliminate patient falls. One hospital alone eliminated over a million minutes of patient wait time last year.

As AI becomes widely adopted, hospitals and physicians will see a massive load lifted off their shoulders and burnout rates substantially reduced. Instead of having to look at every bit of data and anticipate every potential action and reaction, they will be able to focus solely on those issues that require their attention and spend the rest of their time dedicating themselves to their patients."

Charles Koontz. President and CEO of GE Healthcare IT and Chief Digital Officer of GE Healthcare (Chicago): "Digital health transformation is happening now. Machine learning and AI are already demonstrating its potential to drive efficiencies and improve the quality of care and will continue to be significant in the next 20 years. For example, GE Healthcare and the University of San Francisco are already putting digital health into action by developing a library of deep learning algorithms that will improve efficiency, speed and accuracy for clinicians to interpret scans and diagnose patients faster. One example is an algorithm that screens X-rays for pneumothorax (a collapsed lung), which can be a life-threatening condition. With this algorithm, the X-ray machine helps hospital workers quickly identify the presence of pneumothorax and alert the radiologist to prioritize the read in the worklist queue, potentially leading to faster and better outcomes, reduced costs and improved patient experience.

Over time, insights from these algorithms can be leveraged to develop next-generation algorithms that will tackle more complex issues with fewer images available. This technology will get smarter and smarter, with the potential to completely transform the traditional hospital and improve current standards of patient diagnoses."

Greg Kuhnen. Senior Director of Research at Advisory Board (Washington, D.C.): "To quote the author William Gibson, 'The future is already here, it's just unevenly distributed.' We have emergency rooms today where every bit of data captured about a patient is automatically evaluated by AI agents looking for missed diagnoses and potential disease outbreaks.

Physicians are drowning in information and AI can help distill the ocean of raw data into high-quality predictions or highlight latent surprises. We expect AI agents to be deployed as integrated assistants suggesting diagnoses; tailoring order sets to a patient's unique circumstances; projecting risks and potential interventions; and taking over laborious patient monitoring and data interpretation tasks entirely."

Fatima Paruk, MD. CMO of Allscripts Analytics (Chicago): "AI is the future of healthcare. In the retail and economic sectors, AI and predictive analytics have facilitated significant advancements and are seamlessly integrated to many aspects of our lives. Unfortunately, though the technology exists today, we have not applied it to healthcare where it has significant potential to drive a precision medicine approach to preventive care and disease management.

That said, AI systems will play critical roles in healthcare within the next two to three years. The first application of intelligent systems will impact the care management of prevalent chronic diseases of populations. The next wave will leverage increasingly available patient-centered health data with external influences such as pollution exposure, weather factors and economic factors to generate precision medicine solutions customized to individual characteristics. Within reach will be the use of genetic information coupled within care management and precision medicine to uncover the best possible medical treatment plans.

AI will affect physicians and hospitals, as it will play a key role in clinical decision support, enabling earlier identification of disease, and tailored treatment plans to ensure optimal outcomes. It can also be used to demonstrate and educate patients on potential disease pathways and outcomes given different treatment options. It can impact hospitals and health systems in improving efficiency, while reducing the cost of care."

Rajeev Ronanki. Principal in Life Sciences and Health Care of Deloitte Consulting (Los Angeles): "In healthcare's transition to an outcomes-based model, patients are looking to healthcare to provide the same highly personalized level of customer service that is currently provided by retailers and banks. Already, we are witnessing early use cases for artificial intelligence in the space, which we call more broadly 'machine intelligence,' incorporated into various sectors. Specifically, one leading hospital, running one of the largest medical research programs in the United States, is 'training' its machine intelligence systems to analyze the 10 billion phenotypic and genetic images stored in the organization's database. In health insurance, the implementation of cognitive computing will vastly improve customer engagement and customer support and change the way interaction is handled over the life of a policy, beyond just a claim.

There's a confluence of three powerful forces that is driving the machine intelligence trend: exponential data growth, faster distributed systems and smarter algorithms that interpret and process that data. CIOs can expect a number of ways to derive value from machine intelligence. Those opportunities include:

• Cognitive insights — machine intelligence that can augment human decision making;
• Cognitive engagement — machine intelligence based cognitive agents to engage with consumers via voice commands which will advance over time to perform more complex tasks such as admitting patients to hospitals; and
• Cognitive automation — machine intelligence baked into devices and processes that develops deep domain-specific expertise then automates related tasks, freeing up workers to focus on higher value activities.

We expect the growth to continue, with spending on machine intelligence expected to rise to $31.3 billion by 2019 [according to the International Data Corporation]."

Lisa Suennen. Managing Director at GE Ventures (Menlo Park, Calif.): "AI offers the opportunity to free physicians and other clinicians from tedious work analyzing data, giving them time to apply their knowledge in a more focused, informed way. We think AI allows clinicians to work at the highest level of their ability by making them far more informed and effective patient advocates."

Becker's Hospital Review will be publishing several articles on artificial intelligence in healthcare over the upcoming weeks. If you would like to contribute to an upcoming article, contact Laura Dyrda at

More articles on artificial intelligence:
How healthcare AI will move from the lab to your hospital halls
AI-powered cardiac care startup receives $30M from Omeron Healthcare, Mayo Clinic
Google DeepMind wants AI to think like humans

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