AI-enhanced virtual care could reduce ER visits

Artificial intelligence could be key to driving down emergency room visits over the next five years, according to one research company's crystal ball. 

By 2023, enrollment of chronically ill patients in AI-enhanced virtual care will result in 20 million fewer ER visits, according to a prediction by Connecticut-based research company Gartner, which recently released its “Top Strategic Predictions for 2019 and Beyond” report.

The report examined three fundamental effects of continued digital innovation: AI and skills, cultural advancement, and processes becoming products.

The prediction underscores the growing prominence of virtual care, which may be cheaper than face-to-face encounters and also help reduce pressures from clinical shortages, according to Gartner. 

“For patients with chronic illnesses in rural areas, clinician shortages can present a real health challenge. A flare-up or health issue might mean a trip to the emergency room, which is costly for the patient and the hospital,” the report reads. “Now, patients can meet with doctors in different cities by utilizing virtual care, which provides convenient and cost-effective healthcare.”

Virtual care can also improve overall access to care and the quality of care delivered. Other factors driving the utilization of virtual care include the need for coordinated care and population health management.

Interest in AI has risen to a fever pitch over the last few years, with prominent institutions such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) pledging $1 billion to further research in the field. 

Recent research has also found that patients are increasingly receptive to virtual care and satisfied with telehealth visits with doctors. 

Gartner's predictions serve as a guide to chief information officers on how to turn constant changes within digital innovation into assets for the future.

“Continuous change can be made into an asset if an organization sharpens its vision in order to see the future coming ahead of the change that vision heralds,” Gartner Analyst Daryl Plummer said in a statement. “Failing that, there must be a focus on a greater effort to see the need to shift the mindset of the organization. With either of these two methods, practical actions can be found in even the seemingly unrelated predictions of the future.”