Health execs remain optimistic on the potential for AI

Some 72 percent of respondents to an industry survey say artificial intelligence can prove its worth by improving operations.

Implementing artificial intelligence technology into healthcare has been challenging and is still in the early stages, many experts believe, but senior executives in healthcare organizations remain hopeful about AI’s prospects.

A survey of 500 senior executives by Optum Labs in its fourth annual Optum Survey on AI in Health Care shows that most believe the advanced computing technology can help improve patient outcomes, reduce costs and support health equity. The survey was conducted by Optum, the research and development arm of UnitedHealth Group.

There is growing faith in AI to facilitate operations in day-to-day tasks, with some 72 percent of respondents trusting AI to support administrative tasks. Many experts believe that such use of AI can help improve trust in the technology, which will be necessary to enable its use in clinical applications.

The survey found 96 percent of respondents believe AI plays an important role in their effort to reach health equity goals. In addition, 94 percent agreed they have a duty within the healthcare system to ensure AI is used responsibly.

However, the logistical challenges in implementing artificial intelligence for healthcare organizations is causing executives to seek partners for advanced computing projects. Nearly nine out of 10 respondents say they believe the challenges in using AI in healthcare require partnership with health service companies that have expertise in data and analytics, rather than a technology-focused company.

Efforts to implement AI are underway, respondents noted. Some 48 percent of respondents to the Optum survey say they have implemented AI within their organization, compared with 44 percent that noted implementation efforts in last year's survey. Overall, 85 percent of healthcare leaders say their organizations have an AI strategy, compared with 83 percent in the previous year's survey. Overall, 98 percent of healthcare organizations say they have a strategy or are planning one.

Nearly three out of four respondents (72 percent) said they trust AI to support nonclinical, administrative processes that otherwise eat up the time of clinicians that otherwise could be reallocated to patient care. In addition, there is growing interest about the potential for AI in improving patient outcomes, with the most frequently mentioned including virtual patient care, by 41 percent; diagnostic and predicting outcomes, by 40 percent; and medical image interpretation, by 36 percent.

In addition, the surveyed healthcare leaders continue to be optimistic that AI technology will create work opportunities (55%) rather than reduce them (45%). This is similar to last year and up from 52% in 2019.

“The responsible use of AI continues to provide important opportunities for healthcare leaders to streamline administrative processes and provide more effective patient care with enhanced experiences for both patients and providers,” said Steve Griffiths, senior vice president of data and analytics for Optum Labs. “These leaders are not just users of AI, but they have an opportunity to be looked to as role models across industries in their commitment to using AI responsibly.”

Even though some healthcare experts believe that AI implementations for clinical purposes are in the early stages, the results indicate that the surveyed leaders believe AI can lead to significant contributions to future healthcare organizations.

“This year’s survey findings continue to validate how the responsible use of AI can help health systems strengthen and scale essential functions and reduce administrative burdens, all of which helps clinicians focus on their core mission of patient care,” said Rick Hardy, chief executive officer of Optum Insight, the data and analytics business within Optum.

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