Originally published in Health:Further

With the rise of robotics and AI across virtually every industry, the fear of “will a robot take my job?” is more pressing than ever. In the healthcare world, at least, that future couldn’t come soon enough.

The U.S. healthcare system is advanced in so many ways, yet one of the most glaring problems that still plagues it is a lack of interoperability, or as we like to say, the lack of the “Internet of Healthcare (IoH).” In the literal sense, the Internet of Healthcare means connecting networks—connecting health systems, connecting data, connecting patient information and more. It means turning healthcare from a series of intranets connected by fax machines, to a true internet connected by AI as the “router.”

That’s a far cry from the healthcare experience we face now. Today, just getting into a hospital requires mountains of paperwork, faxes, and family medical histories that often take longer to fill out than the hospital visit itself. In one of the most vulnerable and human professions that exists, patients are left feeling like just a number.

The reason this exists is because our existing healthcare technologies were not built to share data. They were built as fortresses to protect the data of patients at each instance, and to make sure that data was available only within the walls of that system.

 

 

As a result, humans had to take on the job of the router, the data processor, the transmitter. This phenomenon has shifted the hours spent by humans from being in front of patients to being in front of computer screens, logged in to many user interfaces, shepherding patient data into the right fields. Licensed caregivers’ quality of life have been pummeled by this new role, and the consequence comes in the form of burnt-out employees, skyrocketing administrative costs, less human-to-human experiences, and most importantly, subsequent decreased quality of care.

It’s easy to throw stones at the software that exists and excoriate them for their lack of data sharing capabilities. However, they were just a product of the requirements they had to meet to become certified and meet a rather daunting set of standards imposed by the federal government. It’s not clear that data sharing should have been introduced into the requirements framework earlier or more aggressively, and it’s not clear if diagnosing that now does us any good. The reality that exists with healthcare technology is that we now have to figure out how to scale that technology to the next level.

We think AI is the solution to scaling that technology, to taking the robot out of the human and propelling human potential further than we’ve ever seen it.

So, what does the world look like when we “take the robot out of the human?” I won’t comment on what it will look like in other industries, but here’s how I see it playing out in the healthcare industry.

1. Insured patients no longer incur unexpected out-of-pocket costs because of registration issues or human error. Instead of filling out insurance information at intake, AI helps hospitals understand patients’ coverage before they even set foot through the door. The same people who spend their days inputting information into EMRs can focus on actually talking to, and understanding, the patients who are there to see them.

2. Patients’ identities are reconciled across multiple departments, even multiple hospitals. By knowing exactly who is coming through the door, and why, AI helps hospitals cut down on doctor-shopping and drastically reduce overdoses on prescription medications.

3. Ride-sharing vehicles are dispatched to the patients who need them the most. Instead of relying on patients to find their own way to the hospital, AI detects which patients have the greatest no-show risk, then dispatches a vehicle to get them the care they need, when they need it.

4. Patients are seamlessly matched to cutting-edge technologies and clinical trials. Finding clinical trial participants can be like finding a needle in a haystack, and it can be the difference between life and death for tens of thousands of people every year. AI gives us the framework not just to enrich those lives, but to save them altogether.

5. Clinicians no longer spend six hours a day entering data into an EMR. Instead, AI transcribes notes from each patient exam and submit them for approval. Burnout decreases, energy improves, and clinicians get to spend their time doing what they care about most.

What’s common about all of those experiences? Humans aren’t out of the picture. In fact, they’re more a part of the picture than they are today. With AI as the router, humans finally have the time, the energy, and the bandwidth to focus on what matters most: the patient.

The current zeitgeist around AI is trepidation about whether or not it will take human jobs, but I believe we will be able to achieve so much more as a humankind with the assistance of AI. It’s true, AI will certainly take parts of our jobs, reconfigure our jobs, but that’s exactly what we need in healthcare today.

We can use AI to take over the Button Olympics that humans are enduring in hospitals across the country. AI can transmit the data where it needs to go, and use global awareness to ensure the right data goes to the right place. AI can turn the human-powered Internet of Healthcare into a technology-powered internet, without having to overhaul the immense infrastructure that has already been put into place. With AI doing all of these things, humans can focus more on creativity and empathy, on the skills that no machine can recreate.

AI largely is not trying to replace humans, just trying to replace some of what humans do. Imagine what healthcare would be like if we could take the robot out of the human. Think about how much better off, and happier, and more fulfilled, the workforce would be. That’s the world I am dedicated to building.