Emerging Technologies

AI in Health: Innovating with Intent

Health innovation is taking many different shapes and forms during this disruptive era of healthcare, but it can be argued that nothing is shaking up the industry today quite as visibly as artificial intelligence (AI). And like all forms of impactful health innovation, to work effectively, it requires a well-balanced ratio of people, processes and technology.

Keeping Humanity at the Heart of Innovation

The landscape of healthcare is changing quickly—and the weight of the change it brings rests heavily on the shoulders of clinicians everywhere.

With one eye on the computer screen and the other on the clock, doctors are feeling divided in their ability to provide the best care to their patients in a reasonable amount of time. The Medscape Physician Compensation Report found more than half of physicians reported spending less than 25 minutes with each patient they see in their practice.


Watch Chris DeRienzo, MD, MPP, FAAP, chief medical officer, Cardinal Analytx Solutions, talk with HIMSS TV about how the industry is on the precipice of making fundamental improvements in population health with machine learning models.

Another study by the Annals of Internal Medicine observed 57 physicians in family medicine, internal medicine, cardiology and orthopedics, and found they spent 49% of their time on EHR and desk work. Could technology be contributing to the same problems it was meant to solve?

“It’s not that technology is the problem, but by design, the way we develop and how we deploy—I think that we’ve architected many of today’s technological tools to remove some of the humanity from medicine instead of helping put it back,” Dr. DeRienzo explained in a HIMSS TV interview.

This means starting from the beginning, reimagining each solution with the patient at its heart.

“Our core focus needs to be on improving health, returning humanity to practice—and then we can move through the design, deploy and develop pathways, and get to a better place,” he continued. And generally, that place is at a patient’s bedside—being supported by technology that doesn’t get in the way of human-to-human interaction.

It’s all about the human connection, and ensuring technology helps—not hinders—patient experience. And if implemented thoughtfully and strategically, welcoming AI in health and care delivery could be revolutionary.

“With language and visual processing capabilities driven by AI technologies, doctors will be able to interact more with a patient in their exam room without technology getting in the way,” Steve Wretling, chief technology and innovation officer at HIMSS, explained in a Healthcare IT News editorial.

Data scientists will be more important than ever, but they certainly won’t replace caregivers. “Instead, caregivers will use innovative technologies in complement to their work,” said Wretling.

As Wretling puts it, it’s about applying unique human insights to the patterns identified through technology. After all, compassion, empathy and human intuition are not technical in nature; they’re the traits that set humans apart from machines.

Fueling Innovation With a Well-Planned Strategy

Last year, HIMSS Media surveyed 180 industry professionals, both providers and non-providers, about what technologies held the most promise to drive health innovation. Their findings showed that 66% of respondents felt the future of innovation was dependent upon AI in healthcare. This was the top-rated technology on the list—only second to analytics and data management. Despite this, 28% of respondents had no strategy in place to incorporate AI and machine learning technologies into workflows—or even a plan to create one in the future.

In order to strategize effectively for AI in health and introduce it to workflows, we need to reframe how we think about AI in general. It’s not the all-encompassing solution to every health-related challenge or a definitive answer to every problem in healthcare—no single form of innovation is.

When strategizing about AI in health, it’s also critical to keep cybersecurity in mind—because unfortunately, like most powerful forms of innovation, AI can be misused with malicious intentions.

To manage the risks, it’s important to keep a system in place that has checks and balances, writes Lee Kim, director of privacy and security at HIMSS. “The core of an AI system is its data processing and decision-making engine. The security and integrity of that engine—including inputs, rules and otherwise—are quite important,” she explained. “If any aspect is tampered with and if there is no human ‘check,’ then it is quite possible that significant harm may occur. In the case of healthcare, this may result in potential harm, injury or even death to a patient.”

Only effectively implemented processes can reduce or eliminate such risks. But in order to begin putting those processes together, it’s important to understand that AI isn’t just a solution; it’s a capability, as Leonard D'Avolio, founder and CEO of Cyft, told HIMSS TV. “That particular capability enables us to learn from data in ways we never could before.”

Change may be hard in healthcare, but it is a prerequisite for improvement, D’Avolio explained. So what can we do to drive that change successfully? “That comes back to some of these rather fundamental principles: you need executive-level sponsorship; you need to pick a problem with a solid 5:1 ROI,” said D’Avolio.

Another integral part of your innovation strategy: measurement. “You can’t just wait a year and look at admission rates or total medical expense,” D’Avolio said. “You need to measure baseline, activities and outcomes every step of the way—because if you want people to adopt it, if you want them to get behind this new thing, you need to be able to show them that it’s worth it.” And ultimately, measurements will prove whether your results are worth what you’ve invested.

Operationalizing AI in health is key to implementing innovation that solves a problem. A systematic approach will ensure that a solution serves not only a strategic purpose but also the patient.

In other words: keep that bright and shiny object in the box until you’re ready to unleash it safely and strategically. Innovate with intent, and never lose focus on that key middle part: the patient at the center of it all.