Survey shows healthcare providers plan to wait for AI and digital health technologies to mature before making major investments in them

Clinical laboratories must develop strategies for connecting to their client doctors’ electronic health record (EHR) systems. Thus, a new survey that predicts most healthcare networks will continue to focus health information technology (HIT) spending on improving their EHRs—rather than investing in artificial intelligence (AI) and digital healthcare—provides valuable insights for medical laboratory managers and stakeholders tasked with implementing and maintaining interfaces to these systems.

According to Damo Consulting’s 2019 Healthcare IT Demand Survey, when it comes to spending money on information technology (IT), healthcare executives believe AI and digital healthcare technologies—though promising—need more development.

Damo’s report notes that 71% of healthcare providers surveyed expect their IT budgets to grow by 20% in 2019. However, much of that growth will be allocated to improving EHR functionality, Healthcare Purchasing News reported in its analysis of Damo survey data.

As healthcare executives plan upgrades to their EHRs, hospital-based medical laboratories will need to take steps to ensure interoperability, while avoiding disruption to lab workflow during transition.

The survey also noted that some providers that are considering investing in AI and digital health technology are struggling to understand the market, the news release states.

“Digital and AI are emerging as critical areas for technology spend among healthcare enterprises in 2019. However, healthcare executives are realistic about their technology needs versus their need to improve care delivery. They find the currently available digital health solutions in the market are not very mature,” explained Paddy Padmanabhan (above), Chief Executive Officer of Damo Consulting, in a news release. (Photo copyright: The Authors Guild.)

Providers More Positive Than Vendors on IT Spend

Damo Consulting is a Chicago-area based healthcare and digital advisory firm. In November 2018, Damo surveyed 64 healthcare executives (40 technology and service leaders, and 24 healthcare enterprise executives).  Interestingly, healthcare providers were more positive than the technology developers on IT spending plans, reported HITInfrastructure.com, which detailed the following survey findings:

  • 79% of healthcare executives anticipate high growth in IT spending in 2019, but only 60% of tech company representatives believe that is so.
  • 75% of healthcare executives and 80% of vendor representatives say change in healthcare IT makes buying decisions harder.
  • 71% of healthcare executives and 55% of vendors say federal government policies help IT spending.
  • 50% of healthcare executives associate immaturity with digital solution offerings.
  • 42% of healthcare providers say they lack resources to launch digital.  

“While information technology vendors are aggressively marketing ‘digital’ and ‘AI,’ healthcare executives note that the currently available solutions in these areas are not very mature. These executives are confused by the buzz around ‘AI’ and ‘digital,’ the changing landscape of who is playing what role, and the blurred lines of capabilities and competition,” noted Padmanabhan in the survey report.

The survey also notes that “Health systems are firmly committed to their EHR vendors. Despite the many shortcomings, EHR systems appear to be the primary choice for digital initiatives among health systems at this stage.”

Some Healthcare Providers Starting to Use AI

Even as EHRs receive the lion’s share of healthcare IT spends, some providers are devoting significant resources to AI-related projects and processes.

For example, clinical pathologists may be intrigued by work being conducted at Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Clinical Artificial Intelligence (CCAI), launched in March. The CCAI is using AI and machine learning in pathology, genetics, and cancer research, with the ultimate goal of improving patient outcomes, reported Becker’s Hospital Review.

“We’re not in it because AI is cool, but because we believe it can advance medical research and collaboration between medicine and industry—with a focus on the patient,” Aziz Nazha, MD, Clinical Hematology and Oncology Specialist and Director of the CCAI, stated in an article posted by the American Medical Association (AMA).

AI Predictions Lower Readmissions and Improve Outcomes

Cleveland Clinic’s CCAI reportedly has gathered data from 1.6 million patients, which it uses to predict length-of-stays and reduce inappropriate readmissions. “But a prediction itself is insufficient,” Nazha told the AMA. “If we can intervene, we can change the prognosis and make things better.”

The CCAI’s ultimate goal is to use predictive models to “develop a new generation of physician-data scientists and medical researchers.” Toward that end, Nazha notes how his team used AI to develop genomic biomarkers that identify whether a certain chemotherapy drug—azacitidine (aka, azacytidine and marketed as Vidaza)—will work for specific patients. This is a key goal of precision medicine

CCAI also created an AI prediction model that outperforms existing prognosis scoring systems for patients with Myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS), a form of cancer in bone marrow.

Partners HealthCare (founded by Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital) recently announced formation of the Center for Clinical Data Science to make AI and machine learning a standard tool for researchers and clinicians, according to a news release.

Meanwhile, at Johns Hopkins Hospital, AI applications track availability of beds and more. The Judy Reitz Capacity Command Center, built in collaboration with GE Healthcare Partners, is a 5,200 square feet center outfitted with AI apps and staff to transfer patients and help smooth coordination of services, according to a news release.

Forbes described the Reitz command center as a “cognitive hospital” and reports that it has essentially enabled Johns Hopkins to expand its capacity by 16 beds without undergoing bricks-and-mortar-style construction.

In short, medical laboratory leaders may want to interact with IT colleagues to ensure uninterrupted workflows as EHR functionality evolves. Furthermore, AI developments suggest opportunities for clinical laboratories to leverage patient data and assist in improving the diagnostic accuracy of providers in ways that improve patient care.

—Donna Marie Pocius

Related Information:

2019 Healthcare IT Demand Survey

Digital and AI are Top Priorities in 2019 as EHR Investments Continue to Dominate

Healthcare IT Spending Priorities Include Big Data Analytics, AI

Healthcare IT Demand Survey: Digital and AI are Top Priorities in 2019 as EHR Systems Continue to Dominate IT Spend

Cleveland Clinic Launches Clinical AI Center: 4 Things to Know

Cleveland Clinic Ready to Push AI Concepts to Clinical Practice

Cleveland Clinic Creating Center for AI in Healthcare

Partners HealthCare Embraces Democratization of AI to Accelerate Innovation in Medicine

Johns Hopkins Hospital Launches Capacity Command Center to Enhance Hospital Operations

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