A recent report indicated that the trajectory of robotics and AI in the healthcare industry could eventually result in hospitals saving around $60 billion worldwide. And yet in the United States, where healthcare emergencies are synonymous with financial hardship, it’s a little bit hard to imagine those savings being passed onto the patient.
What potential impact will AI and automation have on the healthcare industry, both in terms of cost and accessibility?
In this article, we aim to provide a (admittedly imperfect) answer to that question, by giving an overview of what technology is currently available, and what impact it might have.
Robotics in Healthcare: Improving Patient Care and Efficiency
Robotics has had a gradual but significant introduction into the world of healthcare. Robots are now capable of performing complicated surgical procedures with a degree of precision that humans simply can’t match.
Not only does this significantly reduce the risk of error, but it also decreases the recovery time. The incision size has a big impact on the recovery process. Robots can make smaller cuts than humans, resulting in less pain, superficial scarring, and fast recovery.
Consequently, the patient will spend less time in the hospital, which in and of itself can result in thousands of dollars saved.
It’s worth noting that surgery isn’t the only place where robotics is making a splash. Rehabilitation centers all over the world are now using robotic devices to aid in their therapy and mobility training. Robots that can accurately replicate human motion provide real-time feedback during therapy sessions that help expedite recovery time.
It also frees up the therapist’s time, allowing them to focus on more personalized care for their patients.
Data Implementation: Enhancing Personalized Medicine and Evidence-Based Decisions
Data implementation has and will continue to play a significant role in how hospitals manage everything from their administrative workflow, to their patient care. More numbers mean more specific recommendations for patients.
And as wearable health technology grows in prominence (everything from Fitbits to IoT-powered heart monitors are now providing caregivers with detailed numbers in real-time) doctors are now given constant insights onto aspects of patient health that wouldn’t have been possible several decades ago.
Not only does this data provide great feedback on the individual level but it also allows hospitals to make strategic moves specific to the community that they are serving. For example, maybe they are seeing a high number of Covid related complications.
Using that data they can increase their investment in respiratory support, and also evaluate their community outreach efforts to see if they can increase local vaccinations.
Hospitals are also using data-driven insights to narrow down diagnoses and detect illnesses earlier. All of these benefits can decrease costs by increasing the effectiveness of healthcare.
AI in Healthcare: Revolutionizing Diagnostics and Decision-Making
Automation is being used to help analyze and interpret imaging results, vastly decreasing the amount of time it takes to reach conclusions. This is impactful because early detection is vital when it comes to securing good patient outcomes.
Meanwhile, predictive analytics (powered by AI) uses historical patient data to analyze potential treatment outcomes and help healthcare providers make the most impactful choice.
Faster and more effective medical decision-making can help patients avoid long-term health complications, thus reducing their long-term healthcare costs.
One factor that is harder to quantify is the quality of care. Patients who have been on the receiving end of high-quality care are less likely to experience a medical relapse. They also typically experience shorter recovery times and fewer complications.
For example, robotic-driven surgeries typically have significantly smaller incision points than those performed only by human surgeons. Smaller cuts mean less pain, a shorter recovery, and fewer complications.
But these differences can be hard to quantify. Perhaps you took one week off from work to recover from a robot-assisted surgery. Might you have needed two weeks if the surgery had been performed only by humans?
Naturally, it is difficult to say. However, the premise of these new technologies— the only reason that they are being given serious consideration in the first place— seems to indicate that patients will begin to experience better outcomes. And through those better outcomes, they will have fewer and smaller future healthcare-related expenses.
These cost-saving differences will be observed primarily over the long term, as patients all over the world begin to experience the differences in care.
Does New Mean Cheaper in Healthcare?
That’s a valid question. In the healthcare industry, patients are used to experiencing higher costs that are chalked up to “research and development.” In other words, even though a new technology improves workflows and processes, it also costs a significant amount of money to develop and acquire.
Those developers charge an arm and a leg to the hospital, and the hospital subsequently does the same to the patients.
Early adaptation of any technology usually comes at a high cost. Think about how much flatscreen televisions cost when they were first replacing those old rear projector models.
But as a technology proliferates, developers get better at producing sustainably, and consumers— now given a wide variety of options— are more discerning in what products they select. These factors typically have the combined effect of controlling prices.
Will the same effect be observed in hospitals? It’s difficult to say. Robotics, data, and AI aren’t cheap. As hospitals experience millions of dollars in new costs, there may be at least a temporary increase in prices. However, the ultimate impact should be beneficial both to hospitals and the people they treat.