Health Leaders Expecting Faster Returns From AI Investments

As it turns out, all it took was a clear payoff. After years of kicking the tires, healthcare leaders think rates of return are finally fast enough to justify investing some serious dollars into AI technology, a new study suggests.

The study, the Third Optum Survey on Artificial Intelligence in Health Care, reached out to 500 senior healthcare executives representing hospitals, health plans, life sciences companies and employers.

The health leaders making substantial AI bets are largely looking to build out their virtual health capabilities and speed up research on how to address pandemic-generated pressures. This fits with recent research from Dell Technologies finding that 74% of organizations predicted that AI and data tools will be key to helping them tame COVID-19.

The top AI applications health executives expect to leverage include monitoring data from IoT devices such as wearables (40%), accelerated research for new therapeutic or clinical discoveries (37%) and improved automated clinical coding (37%).

And respondents have high hopes for these plays. Optum researchers found that 59% of health execs responding expected AI investments to deliver break-even returns in less than three years. That’s a big jump from 2018, when just 31% thought they could break even on AI investments that quickly, the company noted.

Not surprisingly, health leaders differed on how likely they felt it was that AI could deliver quick returns. Among those in the late stages of AI deployment, nearly six in ten respondents (57%) reported that they’d see returns on AI within less than two years.

Regardless, the respondents expected to see cost savings from AI investments sooner than in previous surveys, with predictions averaging 3.6 years this time around, down from 4.7 years in 2019 and 5.3 years in 2018. That’s a pretty substantial shift, though it, too, can probably be explained by the growing maturity of these installations.

Meanwhile, given their growing confidence in AI investments, it’s little wonder that execs are looking for business and analytical staffers with AI development experience.

In fact, 95% of healthcare leaders told Optum that hiring staffers with AI development is a priority. This includes 66% of executives managing late-stage AI deployments underway, 31% of those with mid-stage deployments and 42% of those in early-stage deployments.

What distinguishes this wave of hiring from previous generations is the extent to which execs are relying on brainpower and experience. The execs said they expect new hires to have not only AI competency but also the ability to grasp and use what AI engines generate. Researchers found that 92% of respondents expected that AI staff who get AI-driven insights will understand how the technology works.

About the author

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

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