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Adoption of AI in healthcare grows quickly, survey finds

The adoption of AI in healthcare is continuing to grow as the technology becomes more refined. Healthcare organizations are expecting to see returns in their AI investments.

The adoption of AI in healthcare, just like the takeup of AI in nearly every other industry, has grown significantly over the last few years.

Largely, that growth has occurred in non-clinical settings -- using AI to enhance administrative tasks, for example, has been successful, as has using AI to help pharmaceutical companies develop drugs.

Optimum use of AI

The adoption of AI in healthcare organizations has grown tremendously since just 2018, and organizations are expecting quick returns on their AI investments, according to a recent survey by Optum.

For the survey, the insurer's second annual survey on AI in healthcare, Optum interviewed 500 healthcare industry leaders, including those from major hospitals, health plans and life science organizations.

Some 62% of the respondents reported having implemented an AI strategy, representing an 88% increase from last year's survey, which found 33% of respondents had put a strategy in place.

The sharp increase "shows how quickly the industry in moving in this space," said Steve Griffiths, senior vice president and chief operating officer of enterprise analytics at Optum.

Healthcare organizations are beginning to move beyond AI hype and are identifying safe applications of AI. Half of the organizations surveyed will first automate business processes, while about a third will focus on investing in personalizing clinical care recommendations. Another third will also make investments in clinical and therapeutic research that are aided by AI.

[AI] is becoming meaningful to people.
Steve GriffithsSenior vice president and chief operating officer of enterprise analytics, Optum

The technology is "becoming more real," Griffiths said. "It's becoming meaningful to people."

He added that he expects the adoption of AI in healthcare to continue to grow over the coming months and years.

Returns on AI investments

The surveyed industry leaders also expect to see fairly quick returns on their AI investments. About 55% of hospital executives and 52% of health plan executives surveyed said they expect to see positive returns on AI investments in three years or less. However, about 38% of life sciences executives expect to see a positive return in five years or longer.

Returns can come from a variety of places, including personnel costs, Griffiths said.

"There are many operational processes that are still manually kind of intensive in healthcare," he said. "For those functions, there would be reductions in staffing levels because some of the AI can now coordinate and drive decisions in some places."

That doesn't necessarily mean people are losing their jobs, however, Griffiths noted. In fact, data indicates that healthcare organizations are increasingly redeploying individuals displaced by AI to other parts of the organization, he said.

Despite the increased adoption of AI in healthcare, organizations have struggled to train employees quickly enough to keep up with the technology.

Recruiting and training

The vast majority of respondents said hiring candidates who have experience working with AI is a priority in their organization, noting that 10% to 50% of new roles will require experience working with AI. About 89% of the respondents said employees are not being trained quickly enough to keep up with AI technologies.

Accordingly, healthcare organizations are turning to universities, technology vendors, and other organizations to recruit technologically adept employees, Griffiths said.

"You're probably seeing a lot of movement across sectors," he said.

Organizations are also working to train their existing employees in AI technologies, Griffiths said.

"As organizations do more and more of that, it's going to upskill the entire industry," he said. "It's the time of the nerds in healthcare."

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