Advising Healthcare Organizations Through Times of Regulatory Reform – Can AI Help to Save Them?

As we enter the next phase of the healthcare reform process with a possible Senate vote on the AHCA bill next week, there is much to contemplate regarding the ins and outs of healthcare policy and the impact on consultants and their clients. Consultants’ messaging has been clear throughout this regulatory blitz – that regardless of ACA and AHCA outcomes, clients need to build a strong foundation based on creating a patient-centric environment with reduced costs, and data-driven decisions to improve outcomes in a changing eco-system in which new technologies (digital/AI/analytics) and new partners (providers/payers/new market entrants) must be embraced.   If this is done, competitive advantage can be gained and organizations will be well positioned to deal with any regulatory changes.  Unfortunately, with tight budgets, limited technology infrastructures, and workforce shortages, for many but the largest healthcare organizations, this is an uphill battle.  However, there may be a new savior on the horizon. According to a new report from Accenture entitled: “Artificial Intelligence: Healthcare’s New Nervous System,” AI may help to position clients for this competitive battle and make them well-poised to take on future regulatory challenges.

In the first report in ALM Intelligence’s new series, “The ALM Industry Forecast: Healthcare Consulting,” IT consulting spend comprised approximately 27% of the consulting market in 2015. ALM expects this segment of the market to grow significantly in the coming periods. To date, there has been a tremendous amount of discussion about the impact and import of EHR implementations, digital initiatives, analytics, cloud and healthcare cybersecurity threats in the IT arena, but the potential significance of AI has not been highlighted as frequently. It may be that AI is finally ready to come on strong and the timing could not be better.

In Fortune magazine’s article, “Where Artificial Intelligence Will Pay Off Most in Health Care” by Clinton Leaf (June 19, 2017), the author states that “the biggest returns on investment for healthcare AI are likely to come from areas where the density (and dollar value) of deals isn’t that substantial right now.” In fact, according to Accenture’s analysis, clinical health AI applications can potentially create $150 billion in annual savings for the US healthcare economy by 2026 with cognitive robotics/smart robotic surgery and virtual nursing assistant applications leading the way with a combined estimated value of $60 billion by 2026.  These potential AI advancements could be a real boon for healthcare organizations’ bottom line.

It’s not hard to see how cognitive robotics surgery, which can incorporate data from both patient medical records and real-time surgical experiences, will create better outcomes. The same can be said for AI-driven nursing assistant applications which can help to care for patients remotely, cutting hospital visit costs and potentially supplementing and enhancing the workforce, which is a constant source of pain for healthcare clients amidst labor shortages and skills gaps. AI can potentially help to alleviate the workforce strain and provide tools for humans to do their jobs more effectively.

It will be interesting to see how quickly AI takes significant hold in the healthcare industry, but it certainly has the potential to be a real game changer in every way. Consultants will be working with their clients to make appropriate investments in this area and to seek partnerships with newer market entrants/technology firms where it makes sense to do so.  Leading edge technologies can create better patient outcomes while reducing administrative costs and workforce-related issues –a win-win for all involved.