Artificial intelligence (AI) has the potential to transform how healthcare is delivered. A joint report with the European Union’s EIT Health explores how it can support improvements in care outcomes, patient experience, and access to healthcare services.
AI in healthcare today
It can increase productivity and the efficiency of care delivery and allow healthcare systems to provide more and better care to more people. AI can help improve the experience of healthcare practitioners, enabling them to spend more time in direct patient care and reducing burnout.
Healthcare is one of the major success stories of our times. Medical science has improved rapidly, raising life expectancy around the world, but as longevity increases, healthcare systems face a growing demand for their services, rising costs and a workforce that is struggling to meet the needs of its patients.
Demand is driven by a combination of unstoppable forces: population aging, changing patient expectations, a shift in lifestyle choices, and the never-ending cycle of innovation being but a few. Of these, the implications from an aging population stand out. By 2050, one in four people in Europe and North America will be over the age of 65—this means the health systems will have to deal with more patients with complex needs. Managing such patients is expensive and requires systems to shift from an episodic care-based philosophy to one that is much more proactive and focused on long-term care management.
Healthcare spending is simply not keeping up. Without major structural and transformational change, healthcare systems will struggle to remain sustainable. Health systems also need a larger workforce, but although the global economy could create 40 million new health-sector jobs by 2030, there is still a projected shortfall of 9.9 million physicians, nurses, and midwives globally over the same period, according to the World Health Organization. We need not only to attract, train, and retain more healthcare professionals, but we also need to ensure their time is used where it adds most value—caring for patients.
Building on automation, artificial intelligence (AI) has the potential to revolutionize healthcare and help address some of the challenges set out above. There are several definitions of AI, but this report draws from a concise and helpful definition used by the European Parliament, “AI is the capability of a computer program to perform tasks or reasoning processes that we usually associate with intelligence in a human being.” AI can lead to better care outcomes and improve the productivity and efficiency of care delivery. It can also improve the day-to-day life of healthcare practitioners, letting them spend more time looking after patients and in so doing, raise staff morale and improve retention. It can even get life-saving treatments to market faster.
The growing number of use cases
These illustrate the full range of areas where AI can have an impact: from apps that help patients manage their care themselves, to online symptom checkers and e-triage AI tools, to virtual agents that can carry out tasks in hospitals, to a bionic pancreas to help patients with diabetes. Some help improves healthcare operations by optimizing scheduling or bed management, others improve population health by predicting the risk of hospital admission or helping detect specific cancers early enabling intervention that can lead to better survival rates; and others even help optimize healthcare R&D and pharmacovigilance. The scale of many solutions remains small, but their increasing adoption at the health-system level indicates the pace of change is accelerating. In most cases, the question is less whether AI can have an impact, and more on how to increase the potential for impact and, crucially, how to do so while improving the user experience and increasing user adoption.
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