A new survey from The Health Management Academy finds that healthcare leaders are bullish on AI technology, especially if it can make back office operations easier and help with burgeoning workforce management issues.
A new survey on the use of AI in healthcare finds that roughly half of the health systems surveyed are using the technology for back-office operations and workforce issues—especially nursing--and there's a lot of interest in conversational applications.
The survey of 40 leading healthcare executives, conducted by The Health Management Academy, sees growing support for AI "to fill gaps and improve productivity," according to a press release accompanying the report. And that growth is coming fast: Almost 85% of those now using AI for workforce issues expect a moderate to significant increase in one to three years.
Healthcare organizations are embracing AI at a fast pace, with executives seeing the technology as a means of improving the quality and accuracy of business tasks, reducing manual labor and improving clinical and staff workflows. Some have argued that the industry may be embracing automation too quickly, at risk of fraying the "human element" of healthcare.
Much of the early adoption of AI is driven by the workforce crisis in healthcare, a combination of a shortage of skilled workers and rising labor costs during a sour economy. With health systems struggling to stay in the black, executives are turning to technology.
According to the HMA survey, 47.5% of executives are now using AI for workforce issues, and the rest are "currently evaluating or considering AI solutions for the workforce." Most health systems start with AI in the back office (78% say they're using or evaluating AI for revenue cycle management tasks, while human resources and supply chain management are also popular), where they see "quick financial wins through cost savings." Then they'll move on the clinical operations, then clinical care.
One area of growth is in nursing. According to the survey, only 15% of executives are now using the technology to support their nurses, but 82.5% say they're evaluating AI for that department. And 65% are exploring AI applications for other clinical staff, including call center, administrative, and financial staff.
"Historically, nursing and other clinical staff have been overlooked for technology investments," the report noted. "However, as competition for labor escalates, health systems are seeking new ways to attract and retain talent and ensure staff work efficiently and effectively at the top of their license. Executives recognize that technology plays a big role and are ready to make the investments."
As for what's on the horizon, healthcare executives are intrigued by conversational AI. Just 27.5% are using that technology now, most often in chatbots, while the other 72.5% is evaluating how they might put AI to use.
"Conversational AI incorporates advanced automation, artificial intelligence, and natural language processing to make machines capable of understanding and responding to human language," the report says. "When asked whether their health system uses conversational AI, most executives answer, 'yes, we have chatbots.' While chatbots have gained traction, it is important to acknowledge they are only one of many use cases for conversational AI."
Finally, healthcare executives say they'll be focusing on using AI technology that integrates with other technology and shows ROI. According to the survey, executives list the five most important factors of AI products as interoperability with the EHR, privacy and security, ability to augment EHR capabilities, anticipated return on investment, and expected value (hard and soft) across three or more years.
Eric Wicklund is the Innovation and Technology Editor for HealthLeaders.
Roughly half of executives surveyed are now using AI in some capacity, and 85% are planning a significant increase in adoption within three years.
While back office operations show the quickest ROI, health systems want to use the technology to improve workflows, especially for nurses.
Executives are evaluating AI products based on their ability to integrate with the EHR, support privacy and security measures and show an ROI.