Few industries could benefit from financial help as much as the healthcare sector. The high cost of diagnostic equipment, medical supplies and drug therapies — plus the electricity and water required to run medical centers — adds up quickly. Those bills are often passed down to patients, leaving them with massive medical debt. AI might be about to change that — if we can use it well.
How Much Money Could AI Save?
According to a 2023 report from the National Bureau of Economic Research, greater adoption of AI — at least, the type currently on the market — could lead to 5–10% savings in U.S. healthcare spending. That equates to anywhere from $200 billion to $360 billion annually. Even better, this figure does not factor in future advancements in AI, which could lead to even more savings.
Where Will AI Save Money in Healthcare?
As artificial intelligence becomes even more advanced, the savings could become even greater. Where will AI have the greatest financial impact?
Streamlining Medical Visits
The word “patient” has never been more apt. In 2022, the average wait time for new patients to see a doctor for a non-urgent appointment was 26 days, an 8% increase compared to 2017. Desperate people are increasingly turning to urgent care centers for help, with almost 71% of these facilities now offering digital radiography to try to meet patients’ needs. If AI helped appointments go faster, doctors could see more patients and generate more revenue.
AI could create automated summaries of a patient’s medical history and interactions with a clinic, including their symptoms, diagnoses, treatments and appointment dates. Doctors and nurses could use it to pull relevant info from patient charts, imaging reports or lab results. AI can even provide translation services, helping doctors communicate with their patients without the aid of a human translator.
Lowering Administrative Costs
In 2019, the healthcare industry cost the U.S. $3.8 trillion, with 25% going toward administrative functions like bookkeeping, scheduling, answering phone calls and sending emails. AI can easily take over — or at least streamline — those tasks.
For example, ChatGPT can draft emails for a variety of different recipients and specific scenarios in a matter of seconds. It can comb through large bodies of text and summarize the main points for the reader. AI could also help pharmacists see how quickly a patient goes through their current prescription or track when they’re due for a refill.
Importantly, AI can power virtual assistant chatbots to help patients manage their health info or schedule appointments. Reducing the time spent on administrative tasks would mean more time available to help actual patients.
Aiding Diagnosis and Treatment
Researchers have recognized the potential for AI to help diagnose patients since the 1970s. The conversation about using AI for this purpose is only growing louder.
Scientists believe algorithms could analyze CT scans, ultrasounds, X-rays and MRIs to look for hidden pathologies. AI can detect patterns and anomalies in blood pressure, pulse rate, body temperature, and more. It can process large volumes of patient data and estimate potential problems before doctors review the charts, speeding up the diagnostic process to save time and money.
Doctors can use AI to determine the best treatment options for specific conditions. It can help physicians notice drug interactions and follow recommended guidelines for complex cases. Having multiple data sources gives doctors a clearer picture of patients’ health, improving the accuracy of diagnosis and treatment.
Improving Writing and Recordkeeping
Medical professionals can use AI to dictate their notes about each visit on a tablet or computer. Then, an algorithm can summarize the key details of each document, including the patient’s past medical history, current condition, diagnosis and treatment plan.
AI can help healthcare professionals write medical reports about individual patients, clinical trials or the progression of diseases around the world. It could even be useful for recruiting people for clinical trials. The algorithm could identify people who meet a trial’s eligibility criteria and help doctors write highly targeted, efficient recruitment copy.
Creating Symptom Checkers
AI-powered symptom checkers are valuable tools for helping patients determine what might be wrong with them. Patients select or type in their symptoms on an app, and the software returns a list of possible diagnoses.
While symptom checkers are obviously not a substitute for seeing a doctor, in some cases, they can prevent unnecessary medical visits. For example, if a patient’s only symptom is a runny nose, the software will likely tell them they have a cold or allergies, both of which can usually be managed at home. The patient can then avoid wasting time and money on a doctor’s visit.
On the other hand, if the symptom checker indicates something more serious is going on, a patient who would normally avoid the doctor might make an appointment. Catching diseases early often lowers the cost of treatment and improves patient outcomes.
Monitoring Global Health
AI has the potential to detect disease outbreaks before epidemiologists do. In 2019, an AI algorithm flagged the sudden spate of pneumonia cases in China as a potential problem around the same time, doctors noticed the situation. The disease turned out to be COVID-19.
Epidemiologists can use AI to comb through social media posts and look for keywords — like “cough” or “flu” — to flag possible epidemics. It can also look for evidence people distrust doctors or vaccines, helping experts determine where another hotspot may emerge.
AI can monitor and track diseases in real time to calculate the risk of widespread infection. For example, video footage can help epidemiologists with contact tracing, determining who is spreading an illness and where. Experts can then advise people who may be infected to self-isolate or see a doctor.
Through modeling, artificial intelligence can predict how diseases will interact with different drugs. It can determine how pathologies spread and how many people are typically infected in a given area.
A Powerful New Tool
Artificial intelligence has the potential to change the healthcare industry dramatically. By reducing patient wait times, automating administrative tasks, tracking global health, and helping doctors with diagnosis and treatment, AI could profoundly improve patient outcomes. At the same time, it will lower the cost of healthcare overall, making treatments more accessible for countless people. AI truly has the power to save lives.