Health IT Leaders Taking Tentative Steps Toward Implementing AI

By Ben Flock, chief healthcare strategist, TEKsystems.

Ben Flock

As technology advances, so does the healthcare industry, with technological breakthroughs increasing the ability of healthcare professionals to serve their patients, record and transfer patient data and more efficiently complete other tasks necessary to keep the industry moving. IT services provider TEKsystems recently released the results of a survey that polled almost 200 healthcare IT leaders (e.g., IT directors, chief information officers, IT vice presidents and IT hiring managers) in late 2017/early 2018 on a range of key issues, including technology maturity, workforce planning, critical roles and the top trends shaping healthcare IT today.

The results revealed a shifting focus from IT leaders: healthcare is behind the curve on initiatives that have the potential to shape the industry going forward, including artificial intelligence (AI).

Business demand is driving both the interests of IT leaders and the prioritization of AI in healthcare.  Value-based care, regulatory mandates and the consumer push for precision/personalized care are driving the business prioritization of AI. These results indicate that while IT leaders know AI in healthcare is the future, they are currently taking a cautious approach to utilizing the technology. This is very likely rooted in security concerns, as there are federal, state and even local mandates dictating the protection and privacy of patient data.

Although cautious, healthcare organizations are actually proceeding on the AI front. As evidence, survey data shows a high percentage of healthcare organizations are in the implementation, evaluation or refining stage with respect to specific technology applications that leverage AI – digital health systems (75 percent) and telemedicine (51 percent). This pragmatic approach to AI will continue, and healthcare organizations will address this emerging industry imperative by providing IT resources, as well as enabling platform technologies and repeatable solutions capabilities in secure applications and solutions that leverage artificial intelligence.

To ensure IT employees are aware of the need to be cautious when implementing AI initiatives, organizations must ensure adequate onboarding and ongoing risk and compliance (R&C) training is provided. An annual “check the box,” activity, R&C training isn’t enough to help employees and third parties manage risk appropriately. The best strategy is to implement a risk-based approach by focusing on higher risk functional areas with direct access to consumers and/or protected health information (PHI), and creating targeted training. Simple education and awareness tactics can dramatically improve compliance when employees and third parties understand how to apply teachings to their area.

One AI business focus area that seems to be lagging from an IT progress perspective is population health management. All healthcare organizations have a population health business strategy, and the survey actually indicates that 78 percent of respondents are past the holding stage and either in the interested/planning phase or beyond for these initiatives/projects. Taking a closer look, 50 percent of those surveyed are actually past the planning phase and already in the implementation/evaluation/refinement phase. It’s very likely that these projects have slowed down due to the same factors impacting other advanced initiatives in this industry: security and privacy mandates can be serious roadblocks, and it is difficult to ingest, transform, and aggregate patient data from varied and sometimes incomplete sources.

Population health management is only one example where the introduction of artificial intelligence will help make huge industry advancements. It is very likely to also impact electronic health record systems, diagnosis, administrative workflow, and patient treatment systems among others.

The healthcare industry has shifted its focus from volume to value-based care, meaning the business demand for IT capabilities in population health management, artificial intelligence and other new technologies will grow. As more and more healthcare organizations implement AI, we will continue to see the effects of this groundbreaking technology in action, as long as healthcare IT leaders take the necessary measurements to implement AI programs in a careful, deliberate manner and continue to comply with mandated patient privacy regulations.

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