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Executives are bullish on the potential of artificial intelligence to improve healthcare. But they say adoption is not happening quickly enough due to a lack of workforce training, high costs, and privacy risks, according to a survey by audit, tax, and advisory services firm KPMG.

KPMG’s survey of healthcare leaders was part of a larger study of how executives across five industries view the future of AI in their sectors, and the steps they are taking to maximize its benefits and mitigate its challenges.

“The pace with which hospital systems have adopted AI and automation programs has dramatically increased since 2017. Virtually all major healthcare providers are moving ahead with pilots or programs in these areas. The medical literature is showing support of AI’s power as a tool to help clinicians,” Melissa Edwards, managing director, digital enablement, KPMG, said in the report.

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An overwhelming majority of healthcare respondents (89%) think AI is already creating efficiencies in their systems, and 91% believe it is increasing patient access to care.

Many of the AI-related services and solutions being advanced in healthcare today are largely in the clinical, patient-facing space.

“Basic forms of automation are proving to be the ‘gateway drug’ to advanced forms of AI—such as scanning documents to determine the urgency of a referral. Applying AI to make earlier diagnoses of critical illnesses is a key area,” Edwards said.

  • Nine out of 10 healthcare executives are confident that AI will improve the patient experience with the greatest impacts being found on diagnostics, electronic records management and incorporating robotics into tasks.
     
  • More than two-thirds of healthcare stakeholders (68%) are confident AI will eventually be effective in diagnosing patient illnesses and conditions, and close to half (47%) believe that diagnostics will have a significant impact soon—within the next two years.
     
  • Healthcare executives also anticipate gains in process automation, with 40% seeing X-rays and CT scans being handled robotically.

Recent findings indicate that function may be close to reality. Google Health reported that an AI model developed and deployed by its DeepMind subsidiary was more effective in screening patients for breast cancer than human doctors using recent X-rays only, despite having access to patients’ previous records.

But the pace of progress is too slow, according to one-third of executives, citing barriers such as a lack of workforce talent and the high cost of implementing AI tools.

To date, only 44% of healthcare insiders say their employees are prepared for AI adoption, which is substantially lower than some of the other industries surveyed. Less than half of healthcare organizations (47%) offer AI training courses to employees.

Just 67% of healthcare insiders say their employees support AI adoption, the lowest ranking of any industry, according to KPMG.

Many healthcare institutions lack a breadth of individuals who “speak” the language of AI, Edwards said.

“Comprehending the full range of AI technology, and how best to apply it in a healthcare setting, is a learned skill that grows out of pilots and tests. Building an AI-ready workforce requires a wholesale change in the approach to training and how to acquire talent. Having people who understand how AI can solve big, complex problems is critical,” she said.

Health systems have already made significant capital investments to meet electronic health records (EHR) requirements. To get AI off the ground requires even more of an investment, and, as a result, some health systems are slower to allocate full funding for AI.

More than half of executives (54%) believe that AI to date has actually increased rather than decreased the overall cost of healthcare. Decision-makers are struggling to determine where to place their AI best bets.

“The question is, ‘Where do I put my AI efforts to get the greatest gain for the business?’ Trying to assess what ROI will look like is a very relevant point as they embark on their AI journey,” Edwards said.

Healthcare executives also are concerned that AI could threaten the security and privacy of patient data. Relatedly, 86% say their organizations are taking care to protect patient privacy as it implements AI.

Wealth Health Organization (WHO) has developed a database to collect the latest scientific findings and knowledge on COVID-19. (Reuters image)

The world is grappling with the emerging crisis of COVID-19 with no specific treatment options currently available. Quarantine procedures and timely detection to restrict the spread of the disease are the only real measures with any government worldwide and India too is following such procedures to respond with speed so as to prevent blowup of the viral infection.

WHO on COVID-19

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Wealth Health Organization (WHO) has developed a database to collect the latest scientific findings and knowledge on COVID-19. Though the WHO is gathering the latest scientific findings and knowledge on coronavirus disease and update the database on a daily basis from searches of bibliographic databases, hand searches, but warns that the entries in the database are exhaustive and new research needs an inclusion regularly. Thus, highlighting gaps in handling global level epidemic information.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools similar to Pharmacovigilance tools are important to collect relevant information on COVID-19 from global sources and undertake content analytics so as to make AI-based preparation and action by WHO.

In order to assimilate various resources and talent, recently, WHO held a two-day global research and innovation forum regarding COVID-19 as per WHO R&D Blueprint. Idea was to urgently collate and share information of health experts from around the world to assess the current level of knowledge about the new COVID-19 disease, identify gaps and work together to accelerate priority research needed to stop this outbreak and preparedness required against any future outbreaks.

India’s need for Partnership

There is an urgent need for a coordinated and proactive R&D for stronger advanced development and manufacturing capabilities, along with regulatory innovations and harmonization of regulatory requirements across the world. A comprehensive policy ecosystem globally is required with a collective end-to-end vision to handle microbiological issues. However, timely initiation of research with adequate funding and setting up a collaborative treatment projects world over is crucial too, since during Ebola outbreak a lack of mechanisms and effective coordination for dedicated mechanisms to build up defences against such aggressive diseases got highlighted.

Outbreaks in recent times of SARS, Ebola and Zika prove that there are gaps that need to be plugged to handle such situations. To address such critical issues, organizations like Norwegian Association called Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) for global alliance financing and coordinating the development of vaccines against emerging infectious diseases have shaped up. This has emerged since a global consensus exists that new and sustainable partnership is the need of the hour to develop vaccines rapidly along with specialized diagnostics tools required to contain such serious outbreaks.

WHO has identified eleven diseases as public health risks for having epidemic potential (with lack of adequate biomedical measures) and as per CEPI, the minimum average cost for developing one vaccine against each of WHO’s 11 priority epidemic infectious diseases may cost up to $2.8 billion.

India & The US

“It may be mentioned that India has ratified the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) and pledges to abide by its obligations. Since the ratification of the BTWC on 15 July 1974, India has sought to improve its capabilities in the biotech field and largely in a peaceful capacity. In 2015, India and the US had signed a new 10-year agreement, which includes provisions to work cooperatively to develop various capabilities like lightweight protective suit effective in chemical and biological hazard environments” explained an expert who wished to remain anonymous.

Way Ahead

India has been facing a serious crisis like Nipah virus in past and Coronavirus today. Carving out of an exclusive agreement on epidemic cases during the forthcoming visit of US President Donald Trump by Indian side shall go a long way to establish a valuable and exclusive partner for India to face the future world.

The government needs to meet various public health needs through the acceleration of vaccine R&D processes, without sacrificing scientific rigour or public safety for pathogens with epidemic potential for which the market does not provide adequate incentives. India’s biotechnology industry has seen some rapid expansions but is in need of standardization of the institutions and such facilities for biological materials handling remains a challenge.

The US partnership shall also assist in improved global coordination, ensuring global regulatory optimization and alignment, and strengthen global scientific advice on vaccine development for emerging infections in future too.