Navigating AI’s Expanding Role in Healthcare

Artificial intelligence (AI) in healthcare continues to spark debates on its benefits and drawbacks. To put it plainly, AI is a hot topic in the sector, and it is evident that AI has firmly entrenched itself in the U.S. healthcare system. AI has been used in healthcare for a while (reading images, analyzing data, and so forth); however, it shifted increasingly to the forefront as it has become more widely available, such as with ChatGPT. So what does all this mean? To help better navigate this ever-evolving landscape, we’re offering a basic view of some of the ways AI is currently transforming healthcare, some areas of concern, and where we’re headed.

The Potential of AI in Healthcare

AI has the potential to revolutionize the care experience for both patients and healthcare workers, and we’re already seeing it hard at work in many instances across the sector. For example, diagnosis and treatment — AI’s ability to analyze vast amounts of patient data, including medical histories and imaging scans — enhances diagnostic accuracy and speed. This can lead to earlier detection and more effective treatment of various conditions. 

It also has the potential to widen access to care — a huge issue for many Americans living in healthcare deserts. Chatbots powered by AI can help expand access to healthcare services, particularly in rural or underdeveloped areas, where there may be a shortage of healthcare professionals or medical facilities. 

Additionally, AI has the potential to help with workforce shortages that have been a significant challenge for the healthcare sector. By automating administrative tasks like record-keeping and appointment scheduling, AI enables healthcare professionals to focus on patients and delivering quality care.

It’s not just those in healthcare; patients are also optimistic about the potential of AI. A survey by Deloitte’s Center for Health Solutions found more than half of U.S. consumers (53%) believe generative AI could improve access issues and shorten wait times for medical care. A little less than half of consumers (46%) say it has the potential to make healthcare more affordable.

Where potential risks lie

Despite the benefits and excitement around AI’s role in healthcare, there is also cause for caution. Some of the bigger concerns with AI center around bias, unfairness, and equity as well as privacy. For example, some studies have found race-based discrepancies in the algorithms and limitations due to the lack of healthcare data for women and minority populations.

There is also a lack of guidelines or framework to help better navigate these challenges. “The absence of standard guidelines for the moral use of AI and ML in healthcare has only served to worsen the situation. There is debate about how far artificial intelligence (AI) may be utilized ethically in healthcare settings since there are no universal guidelines for its use,” according to one study. The study authors write that universal AI with advanced and trustable algorithms is the goal.   

There are also circumstances where AI cannot (and should not) replace the role of a human being. Ken Washington, chief technology and innovation officer at Medtronic, was quoted as saying, “Here’s the bottom line — AI can’t be a substitute for human judgment and experience. To this end, I cannot imagine a future where AI will replace doctors. But I can envision a future where AI is ubiquitous in healthcare, creating better experiences and outcomes that patients will prefer.”

Moving forward

Recognizing the significance of AI’s impact, policymakers are taking steps to address its risks and potential through executive orders and legislative initiatives focused on safety, privacy, equity, and innovation.

In November of last year, members of Congress were briefed on AI’s risks and potential benefits, and President Biden issued an executive order addressing “new standards for AI safety and security, protects Americans’ privacy, advances equity and civil rights, stands up for consumers and workers, promotes innovation and competition, advances American leadership around the world, and more.”

There is clearly a lot of promise with AI’s application in healthcare; however, as AI continues to evolve, it’s crucial for stakeholders across healthcare to engage in ongoing dialogue, research, and policy development to ensure its integration aligns with the industry’s core values of compassion, integrity, and patient well-being. Ideally, through these discussions, we can shape a future where AI enhances, rather than replaces, the human touch in healthcare delivery.

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