Guest Column | July 2, 2019

Can AI Propel Us Towards Universal Health Coverage?

By Greg Horne, SAS


The World Health Organization defines universal health coverage as ensuring that everyone can obtain the care they need, when they need it, right in the heart of their own communities. While countries in all regions of the world continue to make progress toward these goals, millions of people still have no access to healthcare. Considering this stark reality, it’s imperative we ask ourselves, how might advanced analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) improve healthcare access and outcomes globally?

Augmenting Clinical Decisions With AI

Importantly, AI is a tool that supports physicians, not a technology that will replace them. Just as the stethoscope didn’t replace doctors’ ears but enhanced their skills, AI will enhance their ability to deliver care.

For example, super charging technologies like computer vision, text analytics and predictive modeling with AI can help doctors diagnose diseases earlier and with greater accuracy. Likewise, empowering physicians with insights derived from mushrooming volumes of clinical and other data (e.g., environmental, social determinants) enables them to make more informed treatment decisions once the diagnosis is made. Doctors can use real-time data to create personalized and predictive feedback for each patient. And they are freed to spend more time having meaningful conversations with their patients.

More broadly, advanced analytics and embedded AI will help healthcare organizations tangibly improve patient safety and care quality; personalize diagnostics and treatments; empower whole person care; reduce preventable, avoidable complications; improve access to care; and help plan care infrastructure for future generations.

Forecasting The Impact Of Potential Disease Outbreaks

Vaccination has been a key tenant of global universal healthcare access in both the developed and developing world, especially in safeguarding children against disease. Consider measles, for example. Complementing global vaccine safety campaigns and education on herd immunity principles, data and analytics play a vital role in tracking vaccination rates in communities. Such efforts have led to better healthcare cost containment and improved quality of life.

Today, AI also can play a role in helping curb the outbreak and spread of other, more deadly diseases. With the Ebola and the Zika virus global pandemics, for example, containment and treatment efforts have focused on the diseases’ likely spread. Using predictive forecasting and analytics to understand human movements around such outbreaks have allowed for more effective intervention and disease containment, reducing the loss of life.

Establishing Patient Safety Protocols

Antimicrobial resistance is one of the world’s most pressing public health threats, by 2050 projected to kill more people each year than cancer. In a move to reverse this startling trend, advanced analytics are revealing antibiotic prescription patterns and mapping where use is not required.

Beyond mere monitoring, these insights are being used to educate doctors on how to best prescribe – and also to help inform patients why completing the full course of prescribed tablets, even when they may feel better, is so important. Like all challenges with universal healthcare, the education of providers and patients alike is required to drive cost-effective and efficient care to all.

These examples of global progress in improving care access and delivery to at-risk populations demonstrate the role of good data, translated into actionable knowledge. Advanced analytics are already helping change lives and build a healthier, safer planet. The predictive power of advanced analytics will continue to change medicine in many ways, generating operational improvements that drive better care in our homes, hospitals and communities.

But that transformation needs to start somewhere – and it needs to start now. If we strive only for the moon and don’t appreciate the value in what’s immediately around us, the true promise and potential of AI will only be further delayed.

About The Author

Greg Horne, is Principal Health Analytics Strategist at SAS, where he helps health organizations wield the power of analytics to tackle the industry’s great challenges around care delivery, quality, cost containment and more. An innovator with more than 20 year’s industry experience, Greg is a respected thought leader in the future of healthcare and the expansion of patient-focused technology. Connect with him via Twitter and on LinkedIn.