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The future is not what it used to be: How AI can be a force for good in healthcare

Microsoft's Tom Lawry, Omnia Health Live speaker, shares perspectives on AI transformation in healthcare.

Everyone is talking about Artificial Intelligence and its impact on society and business. International tech founders debate on social media over whether AI poses a threat. And of course there is major excitement in healthcare, where AI is expected to become a $36.1 billion market by the end of 2025.

Yet despite the buzz, it’s important to recognise that we’re still in the early stages of the AI journey. As with any new technology, during the first decade great things happen, and then the market evolves.

Looking ahead, we have theories around the rise of the intelligent health system – healthcare entities reinventing themselves to leverage data and AI for the efficient provision of health services, across all touchpoints, experiences and channels.

But let’s take a step back. What is AI really?

AI is software with the ability to depict or mimic human brain functions such as vision, language, speech, search and knowledge – all applied in healthcare today in unique and emerging ways. Machine learning is driving a lot of AI today, and lately we’re making great progress in using it to predict things we care about.

We are seeing a tremendous number of great ideas come forward. For example, in the United States we’re seeing patient risk assessment, and there are also projects worked on in the long-tail of genomics and precision medicine.

Region on the rise

Much of AI’s evolution in healthcare will happen in the Middle East. There is an openness to trying new things in the region that is different from Europe or the United States.

Middle East consumers are more willing to adopt new healthcare options than in other countries, a PwC report shows. Two-thirds of consumers are willing to receive healthcare in a non-traditional setting.

In addition, the Middle East has the second largest mobile phone market in the world - 91% of the UAE population are currently using smartphones, and we know that smartphones are having a huge impact on how healthcare is delivered globally.

Of course, the pandemic has brought non-traditional healthcare even more into focus. One leading hospital group in the UAE for example is doing nearly 150 telemedicine appointments a day on its digital platform run through Microsoft Teams.

Human transformation

As a healthcare leader, what do you need to do today? Let’s begin with data.

Consider this: medical knowledge is growing exponentially. It’s now said to double every 73 days.

The data explosion gives us all superpowers – you get to choose how to use them. How you manage and leverage data as a healthcare leader is critical; if you don’t get it right, none of the excitement over AI really matters. Do you manage data in a way similar to how you manage your financial assets?

You also need to consider that AI is a very different technology from anything we’ve seen before. Systems will act like humans and humans will act less like computers, simply through removing the more administrative tasks we go through. It’s changing the way that systems interact with each other and patients, and that means acting and behaving differently as a leader.

So what do we do as leaders to make this technology work? A recent survey by Accenture among global executives showed that 78 percent of companies struggle to see digital transformation results. In my view, most transformational initiatives fail because many leaders don’t recognise the difference between being a “change master” and a “transformation leader”. Transformation is both multidimensional and complex, rather than one thing.

Digital transformation will only happen through workforce transformation. We often talk about technology, but we don’t talk enough about training and workforce management, which is a huge transformation component.

Some medical roles will be automated out of existence. But mostly jobs will change - based on how AI will free people up so that they can be the knowledge workers they want to be. No AI can take away “human” qualities such as reasoning, caring, empathy, judgment, empathy and problem-solving.

The challenge is how to balance the best of AI with the best that we can do with knowledge workers. AI can be a force for good; you as leaders will get to make that decision today.

AI for Health

At Microsoft we’re excited about the possibilities for AI and healthcare. Our CEO Satya Nadella describes AI as representing one of technologies most important priorities, with healthcare its most urgent application.

We recently launched AI for Health, a new US$ 60 million, five year philanthropic program created to empower nonprofits, researchers and organisations tackling some of the toughest challenges in global health.

Areas that we’re providing AI expertise in include reducing health inequity and improving access to care for underserved populations; supporting fundamental research capabilities; accelerating medical research to advance the prevention, diagnoses and treatment of diseases; and increasing our shared understanding of health and longevity to protect against global health crises.

With AI being so new still, we can all learn from each other. In this vein, I encourage you to visit our website to learn more about how we’re impacting healthcare with Microsoft AI, and you can also catch me virtually at Omnia Health Live, an online networking event for the healthcare community in June.

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