The New Zealand AI Forum has released a report into the use of AI by the health sector, saying it could contribute more than $700 million of value and savings annually by 2026, and $1.6 billion to $3.6 billion by 2035.
The report says the health sector is facing increasing demand, rising consumer expectations and the pressures of an ageing population; pressures that are straining the workforce, increasing costs and limiting access to care.
“The … report describes how AI promises to bring significant clinical, workforce and cost benefits to the health sector, as well as personalise medical care,” the AI Forum says.
“It can help with predicting disease and injury; and mine vast quantities of literature for research insights. It can also assist in novel drug discovery; augment the work of human specialists through image analysis and robotic surgery; automate hospital processes; free up more time for doctor-patient interaction and provide personalised treatment.”
AI Forum executive director Ben Reid said the sector was already investing in data infrastructure in advance of AI, but there were a number of barriers to be overcome to enable widespread adoption of AI in New Zealand healthcare, including a low level of digital literacy among the healthcare workforce and inflexibility of legacy technological systems.
“There is insufficient awareness of where and how AI is being applied in the sector. There is a need to slowly introduce clinical staff to new workflows to avoid resistance and there are low levels of AI awareness among health professionals.
“New Zealand also has a number of self-imposed barriers including restricted access to non-identifiable data, a lack of standardisation, and little cloud data storage.”
The report contains a call for action “to optimise the benefits for the health of New Zealanders that AI offers.”
- the government should create quality standards and a regulatory framework for AI use in healthcare;
- healthcare professionals should increase understanding of how AI and robotics can help them;
- patients and the general public should become accustomed to AI and discover the benefits;
- developers should focus on the big issues of resource use that every health system faces;
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- provider institutions should ensure evaluation and an evidence base aligned with their adoption of AI.
Dr Kevin Ross, chief executive of research partner Precision Driven Health said AI would increasingly outperform humans in translating the unmanageable volume and variety of data and research into practical advice for clinical carers and citizens.
"New Zealand is well positioned to lead this transformation. With high quality digital health records, innovative Kiwi companies, an admired health system and maturing data governance and ethics required to develop this capability,” he said.
Reid concluded: “AI will only reach its potential with accessible, secure, interoperable cloud-based health data and social license for its use. Solving this problem will unleash the power of data in electronic health records for research and development. … Meanwhile large technology companies are starting to experiment internationally with health as a service business model."