Artificial intelligence moves past the hype
On the other hand, something that we know will become increasingly urgent is the need to deliver faster and more precise diagnosis and treatment. The toll on COVID-19 patients and their families this past year has been heavy. But with appointments delayed or cancelled, the toll on non-COVID patients over the past year has also been immense.
And it’s set to rise: research firms agree that non-COVID mortality rates and long-term mental health issues are likely to increase, as will the costs to healthcare systems; in the UK, for cancer alone, an estimated 18,000 more people will have died in the 12 months since the pandemic because of delays, which is almost 10% more than usual [2, 3, 4]. While the rapid growth in telehealth may improve access to care, it cannot entirely make up for this shortfall. Healthcare leaders urgently need to find new ways to deliver better and more efficient care.
This might explain why 40% of healthcare leaders in the Future Health Index 2021 report believe that, to be prepared for the future, implementing predictive healthcare technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, will be among the top areas their hospital or healthcare facility will need to invest in three years from now. I believe that technology cannot – and should not – replace healthcare professionals. But it can give clinicians the right information at their fingertips in the moments that truly matter.
If we take cancer diagnosis as an example, AI-enabled clinical decision support solutions can help clinicians to identify and analyze lesions on a medical image. Until recently, these types of tools were more commonly found in innovation labs rather than hospital labs. Now we’re seeing a handful of them receive the nod from organizations such as the US Food and Drug Administration , which leads me to expect that they will have an important impact on diagnosis and treatment in the near future.
In the six years that the Future Health Index report has been running, this year’s report is the strongest signal yet that AI is finally moving from hype to reality.