It’s Going to Take Artificial Intelligence to Put Humans Back in Healthcare

Sept. 27, 2019
AI has the potential to ‘hack’ traditional cost-cutting methods, improve treatment, and increase accessibility

Imagine a hassle-free visit to your doctor. There’s little waiting, no paperwork, the doctor is relaxed and attentive, there’s time for questions, and the issue that brought you in now has a prescription and a follow-up plan. Sounds easy enough, right? But it rarely is.

The reality is that healthcare—for the 9.5 million covered by the U.S. Military Health Care System, as well as others with private insurance companies—is driven by a giant system of systems that require providers to spend hours on duplicative paperwork and coding—for billing, insurance, and record keeping as well as diagnosis, prescriptions, tests, lab work and follow-ups. All leaving little time for the ‘healing arts.’

The Revolution Begins

What if there was a way to take administrative hassles out of our healthcare systems for good? What if you never had to fill out another new patient form or go pick up copies of lab reports, X-rays or medical records? What if providers had the time necessary to get to know patients, to listen, and to focus on health? A revolution has started that will do just that and more. And instead of taxing humans to solve these issues, healthcare is utilizing the power of artificial intelligence (AI).

AI has the potential to “hack” traditional cost-cutting methods, improve treatment, and increase accessibility. Addressing the root challenge in current healthcare systems’ cost-structure problem starts with transferring time-consuming tasks to machines, while offering patients greater access to self-service care, reducing the amount of human labor required to keep people healthy. Eventually, AI could help address or even eliminate 20 percent of today’s unmet clinical demands.

The benefits of AI will grow incrementally, from robotic surgery to automated operations to preventive care. Within a decade AI will fundamentally transform military and veteran healthcare as we know it. AI provides both the structure and the means for the system to efficiently run, operate and deliver top tier care.

AI will usher in healthcare savings. AI is reducing the costs associated with seeing patients and operating facilities. It can be used to connect systems, standardize health records, self-populate forms, capture exam notes, authorize billing and payments, schedule follow ups and testing and so much more. The reduced administrative burden pokes a hole in the ballooning costs of care.

Reducing fraud, by flagging duplicate bills and excessive costs for out-of-network services, or even comparing patient information to claims, is another AI cost-saving measure.

AI can make healthcare safer. Not only can AI be used to enhance cybersecurity, protect health records, connect disparate systems, and prevent the misuse of data, but it can also be used to reduce human error. AI can check prescription drug doses, track requests for medication from various providers, identify coding errors and even provide patients with answers to frequently asked healthcare questions.

AI leads to better healthcare outcomes. By vastly improving the patient experience within a system, including better scheduling, better continuity of care, more efficient diagnosis and personalized treatment, and fewer unnecessary visits and tests, patients are more likely to seek healthcare for preventative measures, checkups, and mental health. These factors contribute to earlier intervention and a healthier patient base.

Healthcare worldwide is already shifting to a financial model that focuses on staying healthy. In the new model, the emphasis is on value over volume where better health generates revenue. AI is enabling this shift.

Ready for Transformation

Military and veteran healthcare is primed for AI transformation. The opportunities for process improvement aside, the military offers a perfect test bed for large-scale AI implementation. This closed community already values advanced technology, has undertaken a strategic initiative to modernize systems, has historical data ripe for AI insights and learning, and has the means to invest in AI programs. Rather than seeing people as patients, the systems already treat patients like members. With AI-powered improvements being introduced, that trend will help strengthen patient loyalty, build the military healthcare reputation, and even improve the health of our nation.

In July 2019, the Veterans Affairs took a definitive step toward AI, appointing Dr. Gil Alterovitz as its first director of AI, in July of 2019. He’s been a vocal advocate, describing AI as the only way for the Military Health Care System to reduce costs and provide better care.

How will patients view AI? Because AI-powered changes are also improvements, introducing it to patients is often subtle and welcomed. There are already dozens of ways AI is being used and widely accepted in other parts of life, although they aren’t always recognized as AI-driven conveniences. This includes personal recommendations from shopping sites, fraud detection on a credit card account, and even voice-assistants like Alexa. Still, transparency is essential to developing trust with a healthcare provider, so being upfront about the technology, whether used for administrative tasks or diagnostic ones, is an essential step.

Privacy remains a roadblock for AI, particularly within the military community. Early attempts to harness insights from the government’s rich databases of military genomic and health records were cancelled due to privacy concerns, but more recent work has the support of veterans themselves. More than 750,000 volunteered to allow their data to be used for similar work.

In mainstream healthcare, 35 percent of hospitals plan to implement AI within the next two years, and 50 percent plan to within the next five years. This means that all people, not just active military or veterans, will benefit from AI in healthcare in the coming years.

The time for AI is now. The total public and private sector investment in healthcare AI is staggering: It is expected to reach $6.6 billion by 2021. Even more head turning, AI applications are expected to result in annual savings of $150 billion by 2026. Those numbers, along with an aging population, a crucial gap in mental health services, and out of control costs, demand attention and action.

There’s a key part of healthcare that simply cannot be handled by machines or algorithms or processes: one-to-one care. AI will transform healthcare by giving humans the time to do what they do best—interact, listen, observe, and treat the whole person.

Edward Tuorinsky, a Service-Disabled Veteran, brings nearly two decades of experience to DTS in areas of leadership, management consulting and information technology services.

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