Officials say with the right investment, the technology will transform healthcare.
Leaders from HHS, NIH, VA and ServiceNow discuss ways for AI to transform healthcare. Photo credit: Capitol Events Photography
New technologies are having an overwhelming impact on patient care and the delivery of healthcare services. For many government and industry leaders, artificial intelligence is top of mind.
“I have never seen faster and more thoughtful adoption of a new technology in government than we are seeing now with AI,” said Sanja Basaric, head of the AI program at the Department of Health and Human Services, at the Sept. 21 Health IT Summit .
Basaric said there is a “culture of experimentation” as federal agencies test the benefits of AI that align with their missions. “This is huge,” she added.
In the healthcare ecosystem, AI can help at operational and clinical levels at scale. “(AI) benefits everything from natural language processing and reducing physician burnout to computer vision for image recognition and reducing clinical errors,” Basaric said.
But the technology faces several challenges as leaders look for the best ways to use it responsibly and securely and protect patient data.
“It is challenging because I am not an expert in this field. So I can imagine some risks, but I know that I can’t take others. That’s why I think conversations … with many different viewpoints and expertise are important,” Josh Fessel, senior clinical advisor at the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences at the National Institutes of Health, said at the summit.
Other challenges include the adoption of AI and the scale of experiments that will take place. “How do you look at what’s valuable, take one or two of them and say, ‘That’s my standard?’ And adapt it to 106 health systems across the country,” said Ian Komorowski, acting senior adviser in the Office of the Assistant Under Secretary for Health at the Department of Veteran Affairs.
As agencies invest in new technologies, funding issues are therefore a constant battle. Basaric said there needs to be a “culture change” in government for AI to reach its full potential across healthcare.
“We used to have a really risk-averse culture in government, and I think people often needed to prove ROI for a use case or project. And you know it’s difficult, especially with AI,” Basaric said. “I want to get us to a point where we talk more about return on learning. Have we actually learned anything from this compared to the actual budgets?”
At HHS, Basaric said the agency is pairing AI rather than looking at it separately. She noted that the agency has integrated AI throughout its infrastructure.
“For it to be a transformational tool, it needs to be embedded into the actual infrastructure and agency operations,” she said.
As the risk of cybersecurity threats increases across the healthcare ecosystem, experts fear that new technologies will increase these threats.
“We’ve had malware, we’ve had disinformation, we’ve had manipulated images for a long time, AI will accelerate some of these damages. But it will also give us the tools to defeat them ever faster,” Basaric said.
Although there are challenges, panelists believe the good outweighs the bad. They also said people need to stay informed.
“We are talking about lives, safety and the rights of Americans. We can’t get that wrong. There needs to be a human making the final decisions for these important, high-impact AI situations,” Basaric said.