HIMSS18: IT leaders taking cautious approach to AI

Artificial intelligence (AI) is attracting plenty of interest from health IT professionals, but worries about security may slow the transition from systems simply being interested in its applications to actually implementing it, according to a survey conducted by IT services provider TEKSystems.

Collecting responses from nearly 200 chief information officers, IT directors and hiring managers, the survey found an even 50-50 split between those in the stages of being interested in, planning for or implementing AI technology and those who have no plans for AI over the next year.

The conventional wisdom has been while AI’s applications to healthcare are promising—and a hot topic among HIMSS18 attendees—its breakthrough is still years away. Ben Flock, the chief healthcare strategist at TEKSystems, sounded more optimistic about that timeline as systems take a “pragmatic approach” to AI.

“We believe IT leadership definitely views AI as the future, but the survey shows that they are acting with caution, taking a crawl, walk, run approach to AI in their prioritized project portfolios,” Flock told HealthExec. “We believe the reason for this is rooted in an overarching concern for information security. The reasons for this are obvious, given federal, state and, in some cases, local mandates regarding patient (data) protection and privacy.”

IT leaders reported the same 50-50 split on being interested, planning for or implementing Internet of Things (IoT) technology versus having no plans to do so over the next year. Interest and planning was greater for automation and machine learning (53 percent), cloud computing (82 percent) and mobile applications (84 percent).

The projects which were farthest along, according to the survey, related to security. 86 percent reported they were in the implementation, evaluation or refinement phase with their information security projects and another 13 percent expected to take action within the next two years.

“This is expected, given the importance of protecting data and adhering to federal and state regulations related to patient care,” TEKSystems said in a press release.

Beyond security, IT leaders said their systems are placing a higher priority on projects which make operations more efficient—like digital health systems, analytics and business intelligence and interoperability.

Patient-facing technologies appeared to be a lower priority. Population health management, for example, is in the implementation/evaluation/refinement phase for half of respondents, while 28 percent are waiting one to two years before acting and 22 percent have no plans to incorporate it.

“With respect to any lag or delay in developing these applications, we believe the concern is two-fold: the adherence to security and privacy mandates, as well as the complexity and difficulty to ingest, transform, and aggregate patient data from disparate, often incomplete sources,” Flock told HealthExec. “However, with the fundamental shift from volume to value-based care, business demand for IT capabilities in this area will continue to grow, and we anticipate an increased need for IT services partners that can provide the IT resources, platform technologies, and repeatable solutions capabilities to help meet these emerging requirements.”