By 2020, the world will create 44 trillion gigabytes (GB) of digital data each year, according to a report by The Medical Futurist.
“It’s not possible for humans to sift through that much data”, said Ian Hoffberg, manager, healthcare information systems, HIMSS. Artificial intelligence, or AI, is a tool for healthcare providers, payers, and other stakeholders to mine through the “incredible amounts of data we’re collecting every day,” he added.
Also known as machine learning or deep learning, AI analyzes data, identifies patterns, and predicts outcomes. “AI’s going to allow us to have better predictive analytics. It will help with precision medicine,” Hoffberg explained. AI can search through repetitive data and find trends more efficiently and accurately than humans, he said, noting studies within the radiology sector that show 95 percent accuracy.
AI professionals must be highly analytical and understand algorithms
According to Hoffberg, those interested in an AI career must be “highly analytical,” understand data and algorithms, and be able to write code. Employers filling AI positions lean toward individuals with software engineering backgrounds, with individuals having master’s or even doctoral degrees in particular demand, he said.
Highly reputable universities such as Stanford, Carnegie Mellon, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the University of California – Berkeley have the highest-ranked AI programs, according to U.S. News and World Report. In addition, universities and other educational organizations offer certification and training programs.
Great jobs available to those with proper skill sets
The payoff from having the proper education and training are job offers from major technology and healthcare organizations. “Aetna, IBM, Eli Lilly, Google, Microsoft, to name a few, they’re all hiring researchers, software engineers, beta scientists, and senior analytics specialists,” Hoffberg said. “They know that AI is a growing industry.” Health systems have begun hiring staff for AI, as well. Hoffberg said large academic medical centers are more likely to be early adopters of AI, due to having economies of scale and larger budgets than smaller health systems.
Many people may not realize that AI is used to perform many everyday tasks related to using technologies such as Siri on an iPhone, a smart thermostat, or a voice-powered personal assistant like Amazon Alexa. AI is also used to personalize content for each person who uses Facebook, Hoffberg explained. “It's here, and it's growing. The tide is rising for healthcare systems and other stakeholders to use the technology to provide the best level of care for patients,” he added.
AI is enabling better patient care
Relating AI to patient care is important for those with AI roles in healthcare. Hoffberg echoed the comments made by Ginni Rometty, IBM’s chairman, president and CEO, at the HIMSS17 conference and exhibition. “She said that now’s the time when data can be pulled together, to free up physicians to focus on what matters most, and that’s caring for patients,” he recalled.
In healthcare, AI professionals need to understand why the technology is coming to a particular result. For example, “why were you declined a benefit? You have to be able to explain why the system is saying you’re not eligible,” he explained. AI professionals also play a role in culture change. “That’s getting physicians, managers, employers and employees to trust the output or advice that AI provides,” he stated.
AI provides meaningful assistance with pattern recognition, with clinical areas such as pathology and radiology gaining the most immediate impact with AI. Clinical areas working on precision medicine initiatives will be using AI, as well, he said.
Don’t be daunted by AI
While many healthcare organizations may be daunted by the task of starting an AI initiative, Hoffberg said they shouldn’t be. “If you're dealing with a project that is dealing with massive amounts of data, then someone on the team will need to understand the data and write the algorithms for the output.”
“AI eventually will be the tool that will be used to sort through the vast amounts of data. As long as team members understand the data, you’ll be fine, and you can move forward with an AI initiative today,” he said. “There are tools out there, open platforms, that can be used to develop a program.”