Can AI save hospitals from the staffing crisis?

Some hospital leaders are optimistic that artificial intelligence could liberate their clinicians from hours of administrative work and return them to the bedside.

"These new generative AI tools, the large language models, really have enormous potential," Cedars-Sinai CIO Craig Kwiatkowski told Becker's. "I don't see any silver bullets necessarily, but it does seem that we're on the cusp of being able to build solutions that can begin to bend the burnout curve."

Even with healthcare wage inflation showing signs of slowing down, a Fitch report found that the sector's high rate of quitting and continued reliance on contract labor could continue to put stress on the labor market. More than half of nurses are still experiencing symptoms of burnout, with much of that being attributed to "administrative burden."

Hospitals with investment arms have been active in providing financing to vendors that are building AI-based tools designed to combat burnout. Even in a faltering digital health market, Abridge, an AI-powered clinical documentation company, raised $30 million. The company received backing from CVS Health Ventures, Kaiser Permanente Ventures, Brentwood, Tenn.-based Lifepoint Health and Mayo Clinic. 

Pittsburgh-based UPMC was an early adopter of Abridge's technology and other generative AI tools designed to fight burnout. As the health system moves to Epic, UPMC IT leaders are bullish on AI.

"AI will reduce many of the administrative burdens that are placed on healthcare workers, addressing not only staffing issues but also aid in reducing clinician burnout, while increasing productivity and documentation accuracy," said UPMC CIO Ed McCallister. 

Despite the AI optimism shown by some hospital execs, they have also stressed that the tools must be deployed with a clear framework and in a way that isn't too expensive. San Diego-based Scripps Health CFO Brett Tande said that "the economic investment in digital is costly, it needs clinical oversight to ensure it performs as expected." However, the health system is still running pilots on generative AI and looking to "wring cost out of the administrative setting in healthcare."

"We are approaching this evolving technology with cautious optimism. Recently, we published an AI policy and standard that governs how our employees can ethically and safely use AI, with a focus on automation and analytics," said Mr. McCallister. "I am extremely excited to see how this will evolve over the coming years."

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