December 1, 2023
The New Health Care Flashpoint: Artificial Intelligence
Like the printing press, the car and the internet, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is poised to be the next groundbreaking technology that revolutionizes our daily lives. The federal government is tuned into this change and is working feverishly to ensure that AI is developed to be safe and secure –including AI utilization in health care. President Biden signed an Executive Order (EO) to “place the highest urgency on governing the development and use of AI safely and responsibly.” Additionally, both the House and Senate have held several hearings to discuss the benefits and shortcomings of AI in health care and potential policy actions. Keep reading to learn more about federal action and the impact that AI could have in health care.
Federal Regulatory Response
The newness and complexities of AI create a challenge for lawmakers seeking the appropriate scope for regulating AI. Much of the recent federal action has been exploratory and analytical in its approach, including:
- The White House EO: Directs over 50 federal entities to engage in more than 100 specific actions to implement AI policy. Highlights include calls for intellectual and data privacy protections and workforce support for disruptions caused by AI implementation. Additionally, the federal government aims to be a global leader in AI development and adoption and will continue to engage with international partners.
- The Health, Education, Labor and Pension (HELP) Committee Hearing: Avoiding a Cautionary Tale: Policy Considerations for Artificial Intelligence in Health Care: The hearing was used as an opportunity to explore the scope of Congress in regulating AI use in health care. Also discussed was the need to strike the right balance between enacting safety guardrails around AI and enabling innovation.
- The Energy and Commerce Committee Hearing: Understanding How AI is Changing Health Care: This hearing explored the new frontier of AI in the health care space. The Committee is keen to ensure that AI innovation improves patient care and is not being used to supplant physicians’ clinical judgment or indiscriminately limit access to care.
Positives of AI in Health Care
- Workload reduction on providers: AI has been shown to improve workflows by assisting with administrative tasks.
- Improve patient outcomes: AI technology is also being used to detect abnormalities faster, allowing clinicians to give patients access to life-saving treatments quicker. “This means patients with a time-critical emergency can get a faster, more accurate scan completed at our emergency rooms and urgent care centers,” stated David Sinclair, chief medical officer for AdventHealth Daytona Beach.
- Reduce mistakes: A recent poll found that a larger share of Americans think the use of AI in health care would reduce rather than increase the number of mistakes made by health care providers.
- Improve the health care experience and communication: Virtual health assistants driven by AI are expected to play a prominent role in patient engagement and support. These assistants can provide real-time information, answer queries, and offer support for managing chronic conditions.
- Remote Patient Monitoring: AI-enabled devices for remote patient monitoring are expected to become more sophisticated in 2024. Consequently, these devices can track vital signs, medication adherence, and other relevant metrics. This capability provides healthcare professionals with real-time data for proactive decision-making and intervention.
Concerns of AI in Health Care
- Usage of AI by payers to wrongfully deny patient coverage: A lawsuit has been filed against UnitedHealthcare for using AI instead of real medical professionals to wrongfully deny elderly patients care under Medicare Advantage. This was done by overriding their treating physicians’ determinations regarding medically necessary care based on an AI model that UnitedHealthcare claim has a 90% error rate. The plaintiffs also allege that the technology lets the company “aggressively deny coverage because they know they will not be held accountable for wrongful denials.”
- Ethical concerns and lack of public understanding: The current health care system requires that someone be held accountable when poor decisions are made, especially in the medical field. However, there are concerns that AI is seen as a “black box” due to it being difficult to figure out how an algorithm reaches a certain conclusion. While AI is already being used in health care, there is lack of public understanding and mistrust.
- Environmental concerns: The amount of power and water required to run AI technology has the potential to overwhelm our power grids and water resources. As providers are considering new and innovative ways to reduce waste and emissions, the full adoption of AI could severely increase resource consumption.