The role of AI in telemedicine

Artificial intelligence has integrated into several aspects of healthcare, both clinically and operationally.

With the quick acceleration of telemedicine during the pandemic, AI proved a valuable tool in connecting patients and clinicians. At the Becker’s Healthcare Telehealth Virtual Forum on Nov. 2, Nassar Nizami, CIO of Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia and Stephen Morgan, MD, senior vice president and chief medical information officer at Roanoke, Va.-based Carilion Clinic, discussed how artificial intelligence and virtual care delivery will evolve.

Click here to view the session on-demand.

Note: The responses below are lightly edited for clarity and length.

Question: What role will artificial intelligence play in telemedicine in the future?

Nassar Nizami: Today AI is being used in a very basic form. I’m not aware of any significant use cases. For the most part, it’s a fancy term today for data analytics. There are some use cases that are emerging. For instance, we offer a chatbot to our patient, which has a level of intelligence built in to gather responses and direct patients based on their responses. It’s very rudimentary. Now, you think about the possibilities, and that’s where I get excited. There are many use cases that come to mind, for instance, in minor things like background lighting. AI can adjust the background light during surgery, and AI could help with the clarity in positioning of images.

I think another area where AI can really help is by developing algorithms to match care needed with the providers who have the appropriate clinical skills. For instance, based on a certain set of questionnaires, if a patient has a cold, then he or she can be seen by anyone anywhere. If the patient needs an X-ray, then the care has to be local. Those are some use cases of AI, but today I think it’s not being used at all or in a very basic form.

Dr. Stephen Morgan: I totally agree with what Nassar had said. We really are using chatbots mainly in our finance area right now to drive things. We are looking at different triage AI tools that we could use. I think that the amount of data we are starting to collect with digital health and telemedicine will help to drive some of the decision support that our clinicians would like to see in the future, from virtual assistance all the way through ‘Where do patients go? What is the best treatment?’ We used some algorithms on reporting to try to figure out which patients were most appropriate for telemedicine during the pandemic so we could help triage.

Imagine being able to do that in real time and being able to suggest to patients, ‘Hey, you’d be much better served, and it’s going to be much more cost-effective for you, if you were to use an urgent care or to use some type of a virtual platform.’

I think the possibilities in the future with AI are going to be endless.

More articles on telehealth:
How to create successful telehealth programs: 2 IT experts weigh in
Telehealth expansion and health disparities: 3 leaders weigh in
Telehealth strategy for the next 5 years: 2 IT execs discuss

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