Potential uses of artificial intelligence in clinical and administrative settings dominated conversations at the 2023 Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society conference this week. Around 35,000 people attended the conference at Chicago's McCormick Place Convention Center.
Here's what to know.
1. ChatGPT excitement reaches a fever pitch
Conference floors were filled with attendees talking up generative AI solutions that aim to address everything from patient-doctor communications to revenue cycle management.
EHR vendor Epic Systems and big tech company Microsoft set the tone for the week Monday, announcing that Epic's EHR system will be able to run generative AI solutions through Microsoft's OpenAI Azure Service. Microsoft uses OpenAI's language model GPT-4 capabilities in its Azure cloud solution.
“AI is a big part of what we believe is the future,” said David Rhew, Microsoft's global chief medical officer and vice president for healthcare. “Across the board, it's a really exciting opportunity for us to be able to think about how these technologies are going to change the practice and improve healthcare.”
Epic was hardly the only company to make AI-related news. EHR vendor eClinicalWorks said it was also running generative AI solutions through Microsoft's OpenAI Azure. Big data company Innovaccer said it was adding a conversational AI tool to its provider platform.
2. Still, there's skepticism of generative AI
While some in the industry are excited about the possibilities with generative AI, others are urging health systems to pump the brakes on their experimenting.
“Some of the technology is going to get throttled,” said Dr. Patrick McGill, chief transformation officer at Indianapolis-based health system Community Health Network. “We can do a lot of things with AI and Chat-[GPT] and everything else, but how long is it going to take the medical legal environment to catch up?”
In a Tuesday keynote on the ethical considerations of AI, panelists discussed the downsides of black box AI models, noting that it can perpetuate biases in medicine. Also, some consumers may incorrectly view generative AI as capable of human-like reasoning and understanding, said Reid Blackman, founder and CEO of Virtue, a digital ethical risk consultancy.
“Don’t get blinded by ChatGPT and these exciting new things,” said Kay Firth-Butterfield, CEO of the Centre for Trustworthy Technology. She added, “There are uses of AI that are proven and great for you to be using now.”
Firth-Butterfield and others emphasized the need for governance and multispecialty stakeholder teams to oversee the deployment of AI and assess risks across the care continuum. Dr. Taft Parsons III, vice president and chief psychiatric officer at CVS Health, said he is waiting for significant improvements in AI-driven solutions to guarantee patient safety.
“Looking at the types of recommendations I get, [the AI] is either too broad and general to be clinically useful or it’s flat-out inaccurate,” Parsons said.
3. Worries surface about the patient
Even though the conference centered on innovation, there was still acknowledgment that clinical processes need to come before any tech adoption.
“One of the challenges that we face in creating satisfying practices is having technology not get in the way of patient care and having technology support the efficiency of practice,” said Andrea Walsh, president and CEO of HealthPartners, an integrated provider and insurance nonprofit organization in Bloomington, Minnesota.
In its work with hospital-at-home programs, Best Buy Health is focusing on making its technology blend seamlessly into the background of patient-provider interactions and support, said president Deborah Di Sanzo.
Di Sanzo and others expressed the importance of human-centered design that addresses the needs of clinicians and patients and is not driven by virtual point solutions.
4. 'Smart' devices won't be hard to find
"Smart hospitals" as a term is here to stay, particularly since both Amazon and Verizon announced partnerships with hospitals.
Amazon, which teams with hospitals and health systems to deploy its AI-enabled voice assistant Alexa in patient rooms, nursing stations and provider workstations, said patients and care teams will be able to conduct audio and video calls between Amazon’s Echo devices and non-Echo devices. The company said it is also connecting Alexa Smart Properties-connected devices with hospitals’ phone systems for routing Alexa calls and supporting caller ID.
The company said it is deploying some of those updates to health system BayCare’s flagship Wesley Chapel hospital in Wesley Chapel, Florida.
Verizon and Cleveland Clinic said they are launching one of the country’s first 'smart' hospitals with a 5G network in July. The facility will feature innovations that include check-in kiosks, digital displays, hospital resource tracking and virtual reality adoption, said Matt Kull, chief information officer at Cleveland Clinic
“If we’re successful here, all facilities will be built with this type of infrastructure,” Kull said. “We think that this is going to become not the exception but the norm for healthcare.”
5. Providers want bang for their buck
The overwhelming message from providers was the importance of vendors' providing immediate return on investment.
“The financial pressures have [led to] a lot of focus on immediate returns,” said Brad Reimer, chief information officer at Sioux Falls, South Dakota-based Sanford Health. “We’re not just focusing on back-office scale efficiency. There has to be real value for the patient.”
Macroeconomic pressures and depressed operating margins have largely shifted health systems’ strategy in implementing digital health solutions. Many vendors have noticed the shift in priorities.
“Irrespective of the macroeconomic environment we always have this idea [asking], ‘What is the immediate value we get from this solution,” said Amit Khanna, Salesforce’s senior vice president and general manager of healthcare and life sciences. “We have seen, in general, the macroeconomic trends that are impacting every one of us.”