The AI-powered future of healthcare is 'right now': What CEOs think of AI

A year ago, artificial intelligence strategies seemed far away for most hospitals and lived primarily within the IT department. But the recent traction of ChatGPT, Bard and other generative AI technologies has caught the CEO's attention.

"Health systems face strained hospital capacities, burnt-out physicians and care teams, and escalating per-patient costs. All of these challenges demand we revolutionize care delivery with AI and digital health technologies such as remote patient monitoring," said David Lubarsky, MD, CEO and vice chancellor of human health sciences at UC Davis Health in Sacramento.

Pairing AI with clinicians has great potential to drive results.

"The integration of AI will enable informed decision-making for earlier discharge (freeing up capacity and low-value room occupancy) and personalized treatment plans for more effectiveness," said Dr. Lubarsky. "Wearable continuous monitoring and AI together will allow for intervention to prevent adverse events both inside and outside the hospital. AI will also streamline documentation and other repetitive low-value tasks, liberating physicians to focus on important aspects of patient care and reducing their burnout."

Ronda Lehman, president of Mercy Health Lima (Ohio) also sees artificial intelligence as one of the biggest opportunities for health system growth right now.

"It is advancing at a lightning pace and is impacting everything from how we perform surgery or schedule patients to how we educate healthcare professionals," she said. "The opportunity has the potential to be incredible, but I also believe we need to closely evaluate how we continue to address the personal aspect of healthcare that AI cannot replace. Face-to-face interactions and communication skills can too quickly be discarded, and this will further exacerbate issues with loneliness and behavioral health challenges in our society."

Airica Steed, EdD, RN, CEO of MetroHealth also mentioned the human connection as an essential aspect of the AI-integrated future of healthcare during an interview with Becker's.

"Artificial intelligence, including intelligent automation, has a significant role to play in improving healthcare but AI cannot replace people," she said. "We need to be intentional in how we implement automation in all its forms so that the outcomes lead to better patient care and better patient access without reducing interpersonal connection or damaging doctor-patient relationships."

AI has the potential to exacerbate the biases of humans creating the algorithms and systems, leading to wider gaps in health disparities. But leaders in healthcare are working closely with AI experts to reduce biases as the technology evolves. Some health systems have started hiring AI leaders and executives to guide the system. UC Davis in Sacramento, Calif., created a new role of chief artificial intelligence advisor in mid-June and hired Dennis Chornenky to oversee the system's AI initiatives.

Mayo Clinic is on the forefront of AI in healthcare through a partnership with Google Cloud on a generative AI application to improve clinical outcomes, research and workflows, with Google Cloud's anti-bias tools integrated to avoid unvalidated content and inappropriate outputs. Mayo's CEO Gianrico Farrugia, MD, wrote in an article for the Milken Institute that he believes despite the risk of data privacy and ownership, distrust in AI and potential to enhance existing biases, healthcare leaders should "run — not walk — toward AI in healthcare."

"The current issues with healthcare systems around the world will progressively worsen as populations age and costs rise if we do not take responsibility for bringing AI into patient care," he wrote. "A better, AI-powered future of healthcare is not ten or even five years down the road — it is right now, and it is the responsibility of all in healthcare to make this a reality for our patients."

Michael Dowling, CEO of Northwell Health, saw last year the huge impact AI would have on healthcare and its potential to address health disparities.

"At Northwell Health, New York’s largest health system, we know health disparities will only grow worse if we don’t move more quickly to identify and correct them," Michael Dowling, president and CEO of New Hyde Park-based Northwell Health, wrote in a May 11 news release with Tom Manning, chair of Ascertain, an AI venture between Northwell and Aegis Ventures. "To do that, we have turned to AI to disrupt this future."

He went on to cite McKinsey Healthcare Analytics' report that AI could address health disparities while providing $400 billion to $600 billion of value.

"The potential for the use of [AI] is profound," said Deborah Weymouth, CEO of Eastern Connecticut Health Network. "Action in the next three years to build a solid strategic framework for future success is essential. Organizational skills to manage AI and complete the basic steps such as: inventory your level of digitization, develop your AI narrative, ensure data quality, and determine which workflows will deliver the highest return are the starting points. It's moving too fast to wait and see."

While there are many operational and clinical benefits to AI to solve operational workflows, staffing issues and clinician burnout, it won't fix the larger structural problems in healthcare, Dr. Faragia warned. He called on healthcare leaders to reimagine the physical healthcare infrastructure to create highly integrated and flexible spaces for patient care.

He wrote, "We also cannot hope to take advantage of the transformative potential of healthcare powered by AI if we do not also transform our entire health system from our current pipeline model to a platform model. A platform model is one where providers, researchers, and health partners not only effortlessly collaborate, but where tools can also scale, adapt, and flourish in a model that is more accessible and intuitive to patients and providers alike."

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