Federal Advisors Say Yes, AI Can Change Healthcare

Posted on January 26, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

The use of AI in healthcare has been the subject of scores of articles and endless debate among industry professionals over its benefits. The fragile consensus seems to be that while AI certainly has the potential to accomplish great things, it’s not ready for prime time.

That being said, some well-informed healthcare observers disagree. In an ONC blog post, a collection of thought leaders from the agency, AHRQ and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation believe that over the long-term, AI could play an important role in the future of healthcare.

The group of institutions asked JASON, an independent group of scientists and academics who advise the federal government on science and technology issues, to look at AI’s potential. JASON’s job was to look at the technical capabilities, limitations and applications for AI in healthcare over the next 10 years.

In its report, JASON concluded that AI has broad potential for sparking significant advances in the industry and that the time may be right for using AI in healthcare settings.

Why is now a good time to play AI in healthcare? JASON offers a list of reasons, including:

  • Frustration with existing medical systems
  • Universal use of network smart devices by the public
  • Acceptance of at-home services provided by companies like Amazon

But there’s more to consider. While the above conditions are necessary, they’re not enough to support an AI revolution in healthcare on their own, the researchers say. “Without access to high-quality, reliable data, the problems that AI will not be realized,” JASON’s report concludes.

The report notes that while we have access to a flood of digital health data which could fuel clinical applications, it will be important to address the quality of that data. There are also questions about how health data can be integrated into new tools. In addition, it will be important to make sure the data is accessible, and that data repositories maintain patient privacy and are protected by strong security measures, the group warns.

Going forward, JASON recommends the following steps to support AI applications:

  • Capturing health data from smartphones
  • Integrating social and environmental factors into the data mix
  • Supporting AI technology development competitions

According to the blog post, ONC and AHRQ plan to work with other agencies within HHS to identify opportunities. For example, the FDA is likely to look at ways to use AI to improve biomedical research, medical care and outcomes, as well as how it could support emerging technologies focused on precision medicine.

And in the future, the possibilities are even more exciting. If JASON is right, the more researchers study AI applications, the more worthwhile options they’ll find.