Artificial intelligence in healthcare has been a hot topic for years, but 2020 brought entirely new challenges for healthcare that are changing how AI is thought of today. While other industries began adopting AI and automation long ago, healthcare has lagged behind. But now, COVID-19 has rapidly accelerated the demand for AI and automation in healthcare. The entire industry is investing in artificial intelligence, with more emphasis on deploying it for benefits today, not just as a moonshot technology of the future.
Here are the top AI trends we are seeing for healthcare in 2021:
1. Artificial intelligence continues to fight COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic, while in a new stage in 2021, is certainly not over, especially for the healthcare industry. Artificial intelligence has been used since the early days of the pandemic in a variety of ways as researchers, governments, providers and payers all sought information that would help fight the disease. Machine learning models were deployed to track the spread and assist patient diagnostics and treatments. Intelligent automation using RPA and AI are optimizing hospitals’ vaccinations and testing. And of course, AI was used in vaccine development and research, and continues to be used against COVID-19 variants.1
As the data continues to accumulate, and the pandemic (hopefully) moves into our rearview mirror, artificial intelligence will help us truly understand the pandemic and its impact. Using AI and automation, we can track vaccination results and develop strategies to better combat any future health crises.
2. AI adoption will grow as providers and payers work on implementing an enterprise AI strategy
The pandemic revealed healthcare organizations’ need for more advanced technology, especially artificial intelligence and automation, to both fight COVID-19 and improve operations in general. Both providers and payers that had some of these technologies in place were able to respond with more agility to 2020’s demands, and leaders now want to invest in solutions that make their operations more efficient and cost effective.
Sage Growth Partners’ 2020 “The State of Healthcare Automation” report found that 90% of healthcare executives had an AI/automation strategy in place, up from only 53% in 2019. However, in that same study, only 7% of hospital’s AI strategies were fully operational and only 6% of respondents cited having 10 or more use cases live, showing that enterprise AI strategies are still in the fledgling stage. Health system leaders will be looking to implement their strategies in 2021, investigating ways and partners to bring proven AI and automation solutions to their hospitals.
3. Healthcare AI investments are bringing new companies and products to market
Investors around the world have taken note of the need for more artificial intelligence in healthcare, and the dollars have followed. Healthcare AI funding has seen record growth as demand has exploded. Globally, healthcare AI companies raised $2.5 billion in Q1 of 2021, setting a record.2
These dollars are being used to develop innovative solutions for hospitals and for patients, from operational automations to machine learning platforms that accelerate drug R&D. At Olive, successful Series F funding at the end of 2020 brought funds to accelerate new product development and support our cybernetics division. We have acquired Verata Health and Empiric Health since then, expanding our capabilities and building our Internet of Healthcare.
4. Health systems are choosing AI as a Service (AIaaS) to deliver fast ROI
Even as new solutions hit the market, healthcare leaders need AI that works today to address some of their most pressing operational problems. A key success factor quickly emerging is choosing a healthcare-specific AI as a Service (AIaaS) model. AIaaS involves contracting with a partner that builds, delivers, monitors and supports the automations, which enables a health system to effectively scale AI throughout the enterprise.
“We’d want to leverage somebody from the outside since we don’t have the resources to build, manage and maintain it ourselves long-term. And instead of piecemealing it, we’d love to have one or two vendors that provide most of the capabilities for our health system.” – Michael Elley, MBA, CHCIO of Baptist Health
The Sage Growth report found that healthcare organizations familiar with automation and those with automation solutions running for more than a year are more likely to prefer AIaaS. A partner with proven solutions for healthcare can more rapidly deploy automations, helping hospitals realize positive ROI more quickly and scale effectively — without having to rebuild the wheel for every application.
5. Cybernetics will grow, including in the healthcare industry
Cybernetics is an exciting and rapidly developing field of artificial intelligence. While some people think of cybernetics as technologies like a brain-computer interface, cybernetics also has operational applications that are less futuristic, such as an AI “sidekick” that works alongside humans to provide useful, real-time information.
To date, healthcare has focused on bots that use RPA and AI to develop intelligent automation that can complete tasks autonomously. While automation in healthcare continues to advance and spread, cybernetics is the next step in artificial intelligence. It can augment every human employee’s work to reduce errors and improve decision making. For example, it can surface pertinent patient information during scheduling calls to ensure accurate appointments are made, reducing errors and time needed to schedule. Combined with automation, cybernetics can bring AI to every employee and every process throughout healthcare.
Healthcare AI will transform the industry, bringing incredible benefits at every level
From drug research to the revenue cycle, the healthcare industry is seeing the potential of artificial intelligence. 2020 was a catalyst for these changes, and 2021 will see these technologies start to impact care and come to life. To learn more about what AI can do, check out Olive: the only AI solution designed specifically for healthcare.