AI is an inevitable force coming to healthcare.


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Photo of diagnostician in healthcare and technology concept for artificial intelligence courtesy of LeoWolfert/iStock/Getty Images.

By Mike Geldart, Excellere Partners

The declaration was radical and to the point:  “Eighty percent of what doctors do should be and will be done by machines using AI.”

As legendary Silicon Valley venture capitalist Vinod Khosla uttered those words at a recent healthcare conference, I looked around the room full of doctors, healthcare executives, and other industry leaders and took stock.

The range of reaction mirrored what’s happening across the healthcare industry right now. Many shook their heads in disbelief while others nodded in agreement.

VCJ Healthcare Guest Column
Mike Geldart, partner, with Excellere Partners. Photo courtesy of the firm.

Will Khosla be right? I’m not quite ready to go all the way with him, but the truth is when it comes to healthcare, the robot barbarians are at the gate. There’s no turning them back. We can either try to fend them off until they come crashing through or we can take the opportunity to shape what that future looks like.

Power to the consumer

People who have been involved in moving our lives forward are now turning their focus toward healthcare. Amazon changed retail, Uber changed ride-hailing and Netflix changed media.

The thing these companies have in common is that they empower the consumer.

In healthcare, the consumer has traditionally been powerless. Tech companies that have created stellar customer experiences believe they can bring that to the industry.

I know of a national electronics retailer, utilizing its own in-home installation team, that is developing a subscription-based system for families and caregivers that will monitor health indicators for at-risk individuals, such as aging parents or those with significant disabilities.

We must reduce the fear of innovation

While tech companies would love to come in and transform healthcare, it’s not an easy road. Many of them are hiring chief medical officers, but a note to tech companies: hiring these CMOs does not make you a healthcare company, no more than hiring a CTO makes you a tech company.

Before we start crashing the gates, we need to set a common vision. Perhaps it’s a return to the Hippocratic Oath as a starting point: every healthcare stakeholder and every tech company entering the space would pledge going forward to “First, do no harm.” Maybe Google wasn’t too far off the mark with its original “Don’t be evil” motto.

Disruption in healthcare isn’t just about integrating AI or creating exciting new apps. It’s about improving patient health outcomes and empowering the patient. This is common ground that can begin to reduce fear and ease friction as the new era of healthcare begins to take shape.

Embrace valuable technology 

Whether AI will do as much as Khosla predicts remains to be seen. But we should recognize the immense potential it represents for improving patient outcomes, process, and efficiencies, and freeing up doctors to spend more time with patients.

Data is one clear area where AI could revolutionize healthcare. With a fragmented system full of an overwhelming amount of data points, doctors spend far too much time simply digging to find what they need. AI could relieve this, doing in fractions of a second what would take doctors hours, days or longer to do. The time saved would be immense and the data produced would turn it into meaningfully improved treatment for even more patients.

In some cases, AI is already being integrated successfully. There is automated software that already exists on many ECG devices, which can identify and visualize whether the heart rhythm is within normal ranges. Many doctors already use this technology without hesitation. This technology did not replace the clinician, it allowed the clinician to better focus on the right information.  We need to see more of it.

However, it must be done responsibly. Just as the recent implosion of Theranos, the VC-backed, tech-enabled blood diagnostics company, highlights, any technology used in healthcare must, first and foremost, be sound healthcare.

The coming wave of innovation isn’t just inevitable, it’s desperately needed to solve the challenges facing healthcare in the coming years and decades. We need the efficiencies emerging technology can provide, the shakeup of traditional models new players will bring and a fresh point-of-view.

Like any disruptive stage, there will be winners and losers. But we can have a huge say in where we end up.

Mike Geldart has more than 20 years of experience in executive leadership, health law, and corporate development, and is a partner with Excellere Partners. He can be reached at [email protected].