Ecosystem approach will bring AI benefits to the clinical front line

If hospitals are to engage fully in harnessing the power of AI for clinicians in ways that could significantly enhance the efficiency and quality of healthcare provision, they will have to reassess the way they currently procure technology.

GE Healthcare’s Edison Ecosystem approach, which embraces stakeholders and technology developers in a consumerised eCommerce model, could herald a new age of enhanced workflows and processes that give healthcare professionals more time to focus on their patients.

“AI and digital technologies are transforming healthcare at lightning fast speeds. GE Healthcare is part of this transformation journey with our Edison Ecosystem,” says Karley Yoder, VP artificial intelligence. “Innovators are key to ensuring we bring healthtech applications and solutions to market at the needed speed and scale that will allow healthcare providers to ensure the best quality of care.”

This approach shifts the conversation away from broad perceptions of AI as essentially a replacement for doctors, usually associated with high cost and complexity, and on to a fresh vision of innovative tools that learn from the ever-developing richness of healthcare data, and can be bought as easily as a consumer smartphone app.

The role of AI is now well established on the administrative side of healthcare provision. However, the idea of having access to market-ready clinical AI algorithms might signal a new direction for hospitals and providers more used to purchasing turnkey solutions, often from preferred technology partners.

It has the potential to open up a new collaborative environment in which every stakeholder contributes their own strengths to the ecosystem, and the healthcare enterprise can bring the benefits of AI into the clinical mainstream for the first time. Crucially, this can also take place without disrupting existing workflows and systems, while activating data in ways that enhance and complement caregivers’ capabilities.

The ecosystem brings together stakeholders from five key areas: applications, devices, IT solutions, developer services, and a marketplace in which purchasers can choose the most appropriate tools from a diverse pool of vendors.

A growing portfolio of more than 100 applications developed by GE Healthcare, its partners and independent software vendors, covers a wide range of clinical settings from acute triage and critical care to radiology and pathology. These applications can be embedded seamlessly in devices to improve workflow and productivity, and to automate tasks such as data reading and reporting that typically erode a clinician’s time – even at a patient’s bedside.

IT solutions that unlock the accumulation of data silos and integrate these applications with existing workflows can help to avoid any disruption during implementation. Meanwhile a comprehensive suite of developer services reduces the market entry barriers for developers, enabling them to build advanced intelligent apps that meet the needs of time-poor care providers.

This feeds a marketplace that is effectively a trusted one-stop shop for AI algorithms to suit a broadening spectrum of clinical workflows, which already includes cardiology, radiology, women’s health and analytics.

“By curating this digital and collaborative ecosystem, in which each of the stakeholder’s focus lies on their main strengths, we will accelerate the digital transformation for our customers in a way they wouldn’t be able to do in isolation,” says Simon Philip Rost, marketing director EMEA at GE Healthcare.

By enabling the exploding volume of raw data collected by new technologies and devices to be used in real-time to improve healthcare workflows and processes, the ecosystem can help to improve the productivity and efficiency of caregivers themselves.

In doing so, it will also have a positive impact on the experience of their patients at every stage of the care pathway. For example, if an app is being used at a patient’s bedside, the doctor can refine or reprocess images before they are sent to the PACS, reducing delays typically caused by errors or poor image capture.

As AI penetrates these clinical settings more deeply, its capacity not just to augment the doctor’s capabilities but to generate new clinical operational and financial insights that fuel more informed decision-making and feed up into population health screening is certain to increase user expectations.

Some institutions are already benefiting from this cohesive approach, and the ease with which it can be embedded in existing workflows, drawing on data from multiple sources and using advanced AI algorithms to heighten productivity.

Dr Claire Bloomfield, CEO National Consortium of Intelligent Medical Imaging (NCIMI), and an Edison Accelerator advisory board member, says: “Collaboration across the ecosystem is critical to ensure that new research and innovation can have true impact- improving patient care and healthcare delivery.

“Supporting this type of multi-stakeholder collaboration is central to the work of NCIMI, and supporting open innovation through programmes such as the Edison Accelerator provides new ways of bringing stakeholders together for greater impact.”

However, in order to seize advantage of the transformative opportunities presented by the ecosystem, hospitals and healthcare institutions will have to rethink their approach to procurement.

A consumer-based approach, which has more in common with the concept of the app store than it does with traditional provider purchasing models, will open up the possibility of trying and buying tools that specifically match what clinicians are looking for in any department.

Where they might previously have relied exclusively on their big technology partners to fulfil system requirements, providers might instead choose an algorithm from a startup which is tailored precisely to their purpose – and validated as part of a standards-based ecosystem built on the principles of vendor neutrality and interoperability.

A successful shift from having a preferred supplier to a preferred ecosystem will depend on changing legacy purchasing mindsets and structures. If they are replaced by a flexible model that can react quickly to the expectations of users who have experienced rapid digital transformation in the heat of a pandemic, the benefits of using AI to unlock data on the front line will be powerful indeed.

Dr Claire Bloomfield is an Edison Accelerator Advisory Board Member and a clinical consultant for GE Healthcare.

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