Three Reasons AI is ‘Wildly Different’ than Other Healthcare Technologies

August 1, 2018
Dennis Schmuland, MD, FAAFP
Volume 28, Issue 8

Artificial intelligence is about to do what we hoped to see technology do in the last decade for the health industry: Empower organizations and clinicians to improve the health, outcomes, and experience of care for more people in less time and at lower cost.

While you're reading this opening sentence, AI is quietly disrupting the practice of medicine as we know it. 

In fact, AI is about to do what we hoped to see technology do in the last decade for the health industry: Empower organizations and clinicians to improve the health, outcomes, and experience of care for more people in less time and at lower cost. It's happening now in fits and starts, but, eventually, as AI becomes invisibly woven into the fabric of our work and lives, the practice of medicine will become astonishingly more efficient, effective, and, ironically-more human. 

And that's good news for the U.S. health industry that's known for its overachievement in inefficiency and consumer unfriendliness.

It's also good news for clinicians that are legitimately skeptical of highfalutin promises of new technologies. They're skeptical because their experiences with EHRs have left them feeling hindered more than helped by computers. Some studies have shown that up to half of their day is now spent facing a computer screen instead of patients. 

Three Reasons for Optimism

AI, (think of it as a mostly invisible machines with human-like abilities to perceive, read, speak, and learn, and analyze), is wildly different from any technology we’ve experienced before. 

Why? First, because AI is more like us. It can sense, converse, work, and act for us, on our behalf.  In contrast, the EHR is more like a complex tool that requires special training and repetitive use to build the skills required to master the tool.  The more you use it, of course, the more adept at it you become, and the more good things you can do with the tool.  But the learning curve is long and painful. Thankfully, AI is almost the exact opposite. It requires almost no training to use because it can adapt to the way we think and work.

Second, AI delivers a big advantage over EHRs. AI doesn't just work on our behalf.  It works on our behalf without getting in our way like the keyboards and displays that EHRs require.  That’s because AI hardware is usually hidden in the cloud, out of sight.  So, there’s no hardware to get between the patient and clinician

Lastly, unlike humans, AI works tirelessly, instantly, and can analyze thousands of data points at the same time. This means that AI can work on behalf of clinicians behind the scenes, vastly expanding their capacity to act. This frees them to do more important things, like direct patient care, sleeping, or even working at improving their work-life balance. 

To be sure, AI will never get a chance to earn its keep unless health organizations and clinicians choose to adopt it. Fortunately, health organizations will rapidly adopt it because, with operating cost growth overtaking revenue growth, it won’t be long before they won’t be able to afford to operate without it.  And, unlike past technologies that took years to see any results, AI will prove its value almost instantly by finding its way into existing workflows. And don’t worry about clinicians adopting AI. When clinicians experience AI that amplifies their productivity and expands their capacity to act, they'll want more of it, not less.

Dennis Schmuland, MD, FAAFP, a Managed Healthcare Executive editorial advisor, is chief health strategy officer, Microsoft US Health & Life Sciences.

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