The global healthcare artificial intelligence (AI) market reached $1.3 billion in 2018 and is predicted to grow at a CAGR of 40 percent over the next six years. However, with so much recent emphasis on AI, it can be hard to determine what's hype and what's real.
At this year's The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) Health Forum in Washington D.C., I had the pleasure of moderating a panel of industry leaders in healthcare technology that tackled the topic of "Managing AI Expectations in Health-Care R&D." During our discussion, we broke down the hype and highlighted the four most significant opportunities for AI in healthcare.
Watch the full panel discussion.
1. Help humans do their jobs better
The great Stephen Hawking stated that AI could replace humans, a concern shared by many. What was the panel's consensus about technology displacing human talent? No disrespect to Dr. Hawking, but we're increasingly seeing AI creating new opportunities for humans to move up the value chain.
For example, the number of pharmaceutical patent applications has grown over the past decade, creating a backlog and making the job of patent examiners around the world increasingly difficult. AI techniques, such as machine learning and deep learning, may aid in sorting, classifying and scoring applications so that examiners can spend more time applying their expertise to evaluating the novelty of claims and uncovering connections to other prior art. Increasing the speed of patent prosecution in turn encourages further innovation and increases the return on research investments.
"It's not displacement. It's about raising people up," Chris Bouton, CEO of Vyasa Analytics, commented during the discussion. "[AI] is certainly going to cause disruption, same as the advent of electricity, same as how the Iron Age disrupted the Bronze Age. But humans have always stayed one step ahead of the technology they develop, and AI is no different."
2. Drive operational efficiencies
Operations is an area where AI is having an immediate and positive impact on healthcare. Thanks to AI, a machine can quickly assimilate search patterns, key terminology, and other factors that allow it to automate workflows and complete tasks faster and with fewer errors than humans.
An AI-supported insurance claims process, for example, frees up staff to work on more strategic priorities and spend more time helping patients. It may also offer greater accuracy delivering significant savings for providers, patients and insurers by detecting fraudulent claims and ensuring the best possible coverage and reimbursements for patients.
"The healthcare system has many inefficiencies that AI can address,” commented Yugal Sharma, Senior Director of Solutions at CAS, during the discussion. “For example, hospitals are losing $3 million a year as a result of patients not showing up for scheduled appointments. Introducing AI to identify patients who have higher likelihood of being no-shows allows providers to address the issue and ultimately, reduce costs.” This also gives healthcare providers the opportunity to proactively seek solutions for patients struggling to access the healthcare they need, whether it be due to lack of transportation, resources or other reasons.
Perhaps most important, however, is that through machine learning, technology continuously gets smarter, which means AI-led processes and their operational impacts will only get better over time.
3. Accelerate innovation
During the panel, we discussed AI’s incredible potential, particularly for the development of breakthrough drugs that improve and save lives. For example, a recent study shows that a new AI system can computationally screen hundreds of millions of potential drugs against a biological target in a fraction of the time and cost it would take humans.
AI is also helping pharmaceutical researchers examine previously unexplored regions of chemical space for new cures. Thanks to AI, drug hunters can search hundreds of millions of virtual compounds to find potential candidates for drug development in a fraction of the time and resources it would otherwise take.
CAS’s patent-pending approach to predicting a molecule’s biological activity is another example of how AI is accelerating drug discovery. Employing CAS’s proprietary molecular descriptors and a variety of AI techniques enables researchers to identify compounds most likely to have the desired biological activity. This approach significantly reduces the number of compounds that need to be synthesized and assessed to identify new drug candidates.
4. Leverage high-quality data
To maximize the AI opportunity, companies must prioritize both high-quality data and people with the right expertise to successfully work with that data. “To have success with AI, you need a certain size data set. You also need people with the right expertise who are willing to learn along with the system. Those are must-haves,” said Peter Henstock, ML/AI lead at Pfizer, during the discussion.
Rapid development means that today’s cutting edge technology could be old news tomorrow. However, investment in a foundation of high-quality, well-structured data and the processes and technology to manage and maintain it provides an organizational asset that will fuel on-going results as technology evolves.
From the standpoint of AI applications, a high-quality dataset must be accurate, clean and normalized at a minimum. AI applications also benefit from datasets that are large and diverse and which are structured and linked to help identify connections between related data.
Realizing AI opportunities
In light of growing excitement around the promise of AI, many organizations face unrealistic expectations from leadership and other stakeholders who want immediate results and demonstrable return on their early investment. Key to managing expectations is highlighting the proven use cases AI is delivering on today and educating stakeholders on how a successful long-term technology program can make big ideas, and big outcomes, a reality in the future.
Ready to accelerate your AI program? Learn how CAS’s data, technology, and expertise can support your success.