With 2019 rapidly drawing to a close, we’re examining trends and topics that will be at the forefront of the AI industry next year with a new blog series running throughout December: The IPsoft Top 5 in AI 2020. This is the final installment in the series.

The year 2020 will be a crucial nexus point for healthcare and Artificial Intelligence (AI), as healthcare professionals and patients start to become more comfortable interacting with conversational agents within provider and clinical ecosystems. However, in order to understand how AI will impact healthcare in 2020, it’s crucial that we first examine the main limitations inherent in today’s healthcare AI technology.

Before patients and caregivers can rely on AI to provide any complex service, technology vendors, healthcare providers and municipalities must agree upon and enact strict and effective ways to safeguard patient data and provide ethical AI-based treatment. In other words, do not expect AI to deliver your first child anytime soon.

Healthcare facilities and technology vendors are already prepared to meet the security-related challenges, as safeguarding patient data has been of vital importance (and legally required) since hospitals started using digital systems. However, as AI use cases become more prominent in the healthcare industry, government regulation will likely tighten (as we’ve seen with The Internet of Things Improvement Act, which requires governmental devices to meet a high standard of security protection).

Until hospitals, healthcare facilities and government agencies are able to agree on the ways that AI medical data is secured, and the ethical ways in which AI is deployed, AI will not be used to deliver highly personalized and complex services. Nonetheless, even with outstanding issues, AI will continue to be a flashpoint for AI R&D in 2020, and new use cases will continue to emerge.

AI in Healthcare Administration

In order to reap the rewards of automation, healthcare facilities will begin to deploy AI in ways that do not jeopardize patient data, but still relieve some of the burden that manual labor places on caregivers.

There are many potential scenarios. The simple act of automating appointment scheduling or reminding patients to take their medication will enable healthcare providers to remove the human middleman between a digital action and a patient. AI will become a key component in helping doctors and nurses to research conditions, medications and referrals. It will allow patients to check in for appointments from their mobile devices when visiting a healthcare facility, without speaking to anyone or touching a clipboard. It will allow healthcare professionals to log patient data during and after consultations without touching a pen, paper or keyboard.

AI for Streamlining Care

AI will soon have a direct impact on helping people proactively navigate their own care, ultimately leading to better care regimens and programs.

Rather than performing a Google search for information about how, when, and whether or not to use a drug, patients will converse directly with an AI system to find general answers about how certain medications are used. Patients will schedule appointments by chatting with a digital agent rather than a receptionist. AI will help people find highly-rated doctors. AI will assist patients with understanding their insurance benefits and how certain procedures or services will impact them financially. Overall, this will provide a simplified, more human, and more direct experience to medical or clinical events. It also will assist healthcare professionals by eliminating the need to perform rote and repeatable tasks that are a drain on productivity, time and resources.

AI for Direct-to-Patient Benefits

Besides delivering administrative benefits, AI could be key in helping patients actually improve their long-term health. For example, Dr. Vincent Grasso, IPsoft’s healthcare practice lead, recently authored an op-ed for the UK-based Health Tech Digital examining a new AI use case: helping to end the global obesity epidemic. In the post, Dr. Grasso lays the groundwork for how AI can be deployed to assist healthcare professionals and their patients with managing this condition.

“Obesity is a preventable disease of clinical and public health importance. Responsible for more than 30,000 deaths each year in the UK, it contributes to serious conditions including Type 2 Diabetes, cardiovascular disease and certain cancers, including breast, prostate and colon,” Dr. Grasso wrote.

Dr. Grasso said AI can be leveraged for more frequent communication via conversational AI, as well as personalized health plans created by cognitive systems. Although the personalized aspect of this form of care may not be possible in 2020, the more general elements necessary to helping fight obesity will be available via AI. For instance: AI will help people log and track calories throughout the course of a diet regimen. AI will provide nutrition information to help people make healthier food decisions, and remind them to schedule a visit with a nutritionist.

The same approach can be deployed for other conditions that inspire often asked questions with familiar answers. In other words, AI will not treat the patient, but it will provide a more human approach to education, research and care than previous digital formats.

AI is No Substitute for Doctors

Just as one should never take any medical advice from a website without seeking guidance from a physician, one should never rely solely on AI (especially in these early days) for critical answers. As a complement to medical professionals, AI can be transformative, but it should not serve as a substitute. In-person, doctor-to-patient communication plays the most important role in positive medical outcomes.

With this in mind, what we’ll begin to see next year is a substantive move toward patients accessing general information and services via AI-powered digital agents. Patients will interact directly with a virtual agent (either online or mobile) who can walk them through many common healthcare questions. In doing so, AI will allow doctors to spend more one-on-one time with patients, or researching new treatment options, and it will allow nurses and administrators to focus on fewer repetitive tasks, freeing them to provide the best and most comprehensive care to the patients who truly need it.

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