Confidence in AI for Healthcare Improvement Remains High, Survey Finds

Oct. 8, 2019
Respondents believe that AI technology will be most pragmatic for non-clinical applications

Confidence and investment in artificial intelligence (AI) to improve healthcare remain high, according to a new survey of 500 U.S. health industry leaders from hospitals, health plans, life sciences and employers, on their attitudes and adoption of the technology.

The research, conducted by Optum, revealed that compared with 2018 findings of the same survey, this year’s results found a nearly 88 percent increase in the number of respondents who said their organizations have a strategy in place and have implemented AI.

Indeed, the second “OptumIQ Annual Survey on AI in Health Care” also reveals a shift in funding expectations for AI-related projects, as leaders estimate their organizations will invest an average of $39.7 million over the next five years—$7.3 million more than last year’s estimate.

Other notable survey takeaways included:

  • A positive return on investment (ROI) will take less time than previously expected, as little as three years in some cases. Half (50 percent) of respondents expect to see a tangible cost savings in three years or fewer as a result of investing in AI, compared with 31 percent reporting this in 2018. Among the respondent groups, more hospitals (55 percent) and health plans (52 percent) expect to see a positive return in less time – in three years or fewer – while life sciences executives (38 percent) anticipate it taking five years or longer.
  • Implementation has advanced. Sixty-two percent of respondents report having implemented an AI strategy—an increase of nearly 88 percent from 2018 (33 percent)—while 22 percent report being at late stages of implementation.
  • A higher level of trust in AI for administrative over clinical applications. While most respondents indicated high levels of trust in AI for both clinical and administrative tasks overall, when asked to rank specific applications, more administrative applications were selected (62 percent) over clinical applications (38 percent). In addition, when asked which healthcare applications, if any, they would feel comfortable having AI technology support, four out of five of the top-ranked applications were administrative. Those five applications listed were: automating prior authorizations; providing individuals with relevant health actions using personalized communications; managing EHRs; detecting fraud, waste or abuse in reimbursement; and selecting appropriate care settings.

Administrative process improvements top the list of investment priorities. Half (50 percent) of organizations will invest first in automating business processes, such as administrative tasks or customer service, while more than a third (36 percent) will invest in personalizing clinical care recommendations, such as drug therapies, and the same percentage (36 percent) also will invest in accelerating research for new therapeutic or clinical discoveries.

What’s more, as more organizations invest in and move forward with implementations, half (52 percent) of leaders expect AI to create more work opportunities. The majority (87 percent) agree that hiring candidates who have experience working with AI technology is a priority for their organization.

“These findings validate that AI is vital to holistically transform healthcare. It’s encouraging to see executives’ growing trust in, and adoption of, AI to make data more actionable in making the health system work better for everyone,” said Dan Schumacher, president and chief operating officer of Optum.

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