If you were to believe all the headlines you read about AI in healthcare, you’d probably think that AI will be curing cancer and replacing doctors within the year. I mean, there have certainly been some exciting advancements. For instance, medical teams at MIT and Mass General Cancer Center recently developed and tested an AI tool that was able to look at an image and accurately predict the risk of a patient developing lung cancer within six years.
On the other hand, Elizabeth Holmes, the founder of Theranos, stands as a prominent example of what happens when people blindly believe the hype about healthcare and technology. Her fraudulent claims about a supposedly revolutionary blood testing technology raised concerns about the oversight and regulation of AI and healthcare innovations, and ultimately ended with her being sentenced to eleven-years in prison.
To make the most of AI without getting blinded by the hype, I recommend treating it like any other new technology: subject it to rigorous scrutiny, demand transparency, and emphasize responsible implementation. AI isn’t a magic wand that will instantly cure all ailments or replace the expertise of medical professionals. It’s a tool – a potentially powerful one – but it’s still just a tool.
Which medical fields benefit most?
Some fields of medicine will benefit from using AI more than others. For instance, the field of medical imaging and diagnostics has already seen the benefits of AI. Again, radiology departments can now utilize AI algorithms to analyze medical images such as X-rays, MRIs, and CT scans. These algorithms can identify abnormalities and assist radiologists in making more accurate and timely diagnoses.
Another field that will benefit from AI is drug development in pharmaceuticals. Scientists can use AI to analyze massive datasets of molecular structures and predict potential drug candidates. This is much more efficient than having organic chemists sift through datasets by hand. AI can also expedite clinical trial recruitment by matching eligible patients with suitable trials based on their medical records. So, AI can accelerate drug discovery, reduce research and development costs, and bring life-saving treatments to market more quickly.
Even more human-oriented tasks, such as patient engagement and remote monitoring, stand to benefit from AI. AI-powered healthcare CRM systems can enable personalized patient communication and remote health monitoring. These systems can send automated follow-up messages, answer patient queries, and detect potential issues based on patient-reported symptoms. AI enables enhanced patient engagement, improved adherence to treatment plans, and early detection of health issues. This frees up time for healthcare staff, allowing them to focus on more complex tasks.
First, recognize that telehealth is more than telemedicine. The first needed focus is on the rest of the patient journey outside the 15-minute conversation with the doctor. Patients want ALL aspects of their health journey to be easily handled in the moment, on their smartphone.
Telehealth includes any processes and tasks performed by medical professionals remotely. The Health Resources and Services Administration (HSRA) acknowledges this need and defines telehealth very broadly:
“Any use of electronic information and telecommunications technologies to support and promote long-distance clinical health care, patient and professional health-related education, and public health and health administration.” –Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA)
Examples of what the rest of the patient journey looks like – Finding a doctor, getting a referral, booking an appointment, validating insurance, checking in, processing payments, getting prescriptions, getting related health education, or handling any customer service needs.
The second focus should be on improving the technology within the telemedicine visit itself. The telemedicine visit is typically a video call with the provider. The technology should facilitate the administration, documentation, and operations side of the telemedicine visit. These involve tasks such as facilitating the doctor’s documentation, placing of orders and creating tasks. Current technology too often forces the doctor to focus more on the EHR than on the patient.
The third focus should be on provider training. Standardized training needs to be developed for the providers and their support staff for navigating the extra complexities that telehealth provides. Many organizations have developed their own, but it needs to be standardized and shared across organizations. Telehealth requires advanced training around such things as communication skills, navigating tools and technologies, and decision-making when you detect an unsafe situation, and you don’t have your normal escalation options available.
Challenges in implementing telehealth services in healthcare
The challenges for telehealth are far greater than what you would expect from other industries. First of all, the medical variation and factors to consider alone are highly complex. Add to that the fact that telehealth communication is different. Excellent telehealth communication requires establishing a therapeutic relationship with the patient within 30 seconds.
Clinical safety considerations are different with telehealth than in person, and every telehealth staff member needs to be aware of them. The telehealth work itself is different, in that on one hand it is more isolated and remote, and on the other hand it requires familiarity with more technologies and tools. In healthcare, those technologies and tools are almost certainly fragmented as is the underlying patient data.
None of these challenges is a trivial one. Addressing them takes dedicated focus by a mix of clinical and technical expertise.