Mercy's Stewart says the decision on when to jump into AI will be "highly individualized" for every provider.
"You'll have to assess your internal capabilities to do this," he says. "Right now, it would not be my recommendation to buy the hype and the buzz of the hundred startups in the past 12 months who will come in and say, ‘We are going to come in and revolutionize your operations with machine learning and AI.' It's still early, so I would be very conservative against those claims."
Skepticism and caution are not a pass to sit on your hands and do nothing.
"It seems as far-fetched as quantum mechanics or astrophysics, but it's really not. If you've got some internal capabilities to start thinking about some of these problems in your facility, there are some machine learning algorithms that you can initiate with Amazon cloud. Just send it and they give you an answer back," Stewart says.
"The accessibility of the technology now is unbelievably different than it was 18 months ago, and that is going to change. The rate of change is not linear; it is exponential. This is going to get easier and easier and more accessible for these small-focus use cases."
While AI has yet to transform medicine, Blum says those who ignore the new technology do so at their own peril.
"It is easy to get skeptical and say AI has been around for 50 years, but it hasn't changed much," he says. "Realize that there are autonomous driving cars. There is Siri and Alexa. While it is easy to poke fun and say they're imperfect and we have to be perfect in healthcare, the reality is these technologies are rapidly improving."
"There have been several technological breakthroughs over the past five years that are powering that. Storage is very cheap and computing power continues to get cheaper very quickly, so we are very much at the cusp of seeing a transition here," Blum says. "The same way that iPhones were a novelty one year and the next year everyone had them, you are going to see the same thing with AI. These will be a novelty. They'll be at the academic medical centers, and then fairly quickly they are going to be deployed as general purpose applications via commercially available cloud services."
John Commins is a content specialist and online news editor for HealthLeaders, a Simplify Compliance brand.