Sutter Health CEO: AI will ultimately impact every part of healthcare services over time

Warner Thomas, president and CEO of Sacramento, Calif.-based Sutter Health, said that although it's still too early to obtain a full picture of artificial intelligence's implications for hospital and health system operations, he believes it will have an "extremely significant" impact, especially in addressing administrative waste. 

"Those of us in healthcare need to be studying these technologies all the time. We need to learn from other industries and watch how they use them to interact differently with the people they serve," Mr. Thomas told Becker's

Mr. Thomas said healthcare organizations need to think about how to bring that innovation to the delivery of healthcare, but without minimizing "the clinical interaction and the special relationship between patients and caregivers."

"That's a vital relationship to preserve — but to supplement it. To make it easier for patients to access us, to become more connected with them," he said. 

One way he sees AI having a potential impact on hospital operations in the future is by addressing administrative waste. 

"As hospitals operate on thin margins, clinicians are both our most valuable and most expensive resource. We can't afford to have them working below the top of their license," he said.

Sutter Health is currently exploring how AI could reduce the administrative burden on clinicians, particularly in the physician inbox. 

"Our physicians get tens of millions of inbox messages — how can AI help us triage them in a very different way that lifts the burden of incoming requests for prescription refills, messages about post-acute referrals, etc., off the physician, but doesn't just dump it onto another member of the care team?" he said. 

These are the kinds of questions Sutter Health is looking at answering with the technology. 

Sutter Health joined Chapel Hill, N.C.-based UNC Health; UC San Diego Health; Madison, Wis.-based UW Health; and Palo Alto, Calif.-based Stanford Health Care in piloting Microsoft's ambient AI and GPT-4 to try and automate clinical documentation. 

"This is a concrete and interesting approach we can work and build on, toward our broader goal of evolving — and enhancing — the way physicians work and interact with patients," he said. 

Overall, the healthcare CEO said he's excited about the many ways to apply emerging technologies like AI and says it will ultimately affect every part of healthcare services over time.

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