What does generative AI mean for healthcare providers?

  • February 28, 2024

We are in a crisis. The resulting strains on clinician burnout, capacity challenges and financial losses have lingered far longer than anyone had predicted. To survive, it is now imperative for health systems to adapt and innovate with emerging technologies.

Factors such as changing industry regulations, patient expectations and the fears and fallout from a global pandemic have disrupted operations and sped up targeted digital transformations. Fortunately, we've defined what good looks like in healthcare. We have the quadruple-aim framework, which calls for better patient outcomes, improved patient and clinician experience and more responsible and efficient financial management, leading to lower costs.

The problem is that our scorecard year-over-year has been getting worse over the last five years. Whether it was pre-pandemic, during the pandemic or after, the overall grade of the healthcare industry has been abysmally failing. We're in a perpetual crisis and there's not a turning point with the usual technologies and approaches such as better continuous quality improvement — all the things that we'd normally do in healthcare.

We can't Six Sigma our way out of this. We have a fundamental problem in healthcare now. However, a new way of doing things may finally be on the horizon. Enter stage left, where generative AI, with its growing number of opportunities and transformative capabilities, has been one of the biggest talking points of the last year. The healthcare industry is especially ripe for disruption, and the timing of something like generative AI to come in puts the healthcare sector squarely at an inflection point.

The pros and cons of generative AI in healthcare

So how exactly can generative AI help a healthcare organization? Let's talk about conversational AI in a sample use case. Imagine this: For the millions of people who have behavioral health issues that aren't getting addressed, how many nurses or nurse navigators or behavioral health specialists do we lack?

Behavioral health professionals, counselors, social workers and navigators aren't getting to the patients who need their help. There are a lot of people who are deteriorating and nobody's aware. Generative AI healthcare providers, for example, can use a conversational AI agent that engages with patients in a way that interprets their emotional sentience, which is the patient's emotional state.

Many providers are struggling with monitoring the mental and emotional state of patients to see if they're declining over days or weeks. If generative AI can pick up deteriorations by engaging with them and then getting an escalation to a live person to intervene, that can lead to much better outcomes.

With generative AI being relatively new, there are plenty of pitfalls that healthcare providers need to address before taking the leap. A recent terrifying example was the controversy involving the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), which used a chatbot named Tessa to interact with users.

Unbeknownst to the researchers who had painstakingly developed a rules-based AI approach for the system, the chatbot’s third-party vendor made some changes midstream by implementing some conversational generative AI. The chatbot provided inaccurate information and suggestions such as advising anorexic patients on how to reduce food intake and lose weight.

How healthcare can flourish with generative AI

What can health providers do to make sure that generative AI works how it's supposed to, instead of undermining the results and eroding the trust of patients in the system? Organizations must approach the issue from the highest level by establishing a generative AI strategy that encourages collaboration and innovation.

This strategy, like all of healthcare, must be personalized and human by design. Healthcare organizations will also need to make sure that they proactively create a governance framework that maximizes outcomes while minimizing the risks of employing a technology such as generative AI.

NTT DATA’s dedicated healthcare-focused AI specialists can help you realize your generative AI capabilities. By implementing cutting-edge innovation backed by fundamentals such as strict data governance, our experts have worked with healthcare providers nationwide to maximize the ROI of their AI investment. Talk to us today to discuss how we can help you keep up with and take advantage of these rapidly changing technologies through our wide range of healthcare AI solutions.

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Dr. John Frownfelter, MD, FACP

John brings more than 20 years of physician leadership experience to bear on the challenges in healthcare today. His health IT leadership roles in the c-suites of large provider organizations are augmented by more recent work in consulting and with healthcare startups. He has a broad range of expertise in organizational care transformation, change management with health IT, strategic planning and leveraging analytics to empower organizations at all levels.


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