Taking a closer look: Is AI a smart investment for hospitals?

Countless studies have explored AI’s impact on healthcare providers and the patients they serve—but what about the financial side of things? Looking purely at the bottom line, is AI a wise investment?

That’s exactly what the authors of a new study published by the Journal of Medical Internet Research hoped to explore.

“In times of value-based healthcare and also because of the high share of the healthcare industry in the overall economy, economic impact assessment is of increasing importance,” wrote first author Justus Wolff, MSc, Technical University of Munich in Germany, and colleagues. Such assessments, the team added, play “a crucial role for all stakeholders in healthcare.”

Wolff et al. conducted a systematic review of cost-effectiveness studies focused on AI and healthcare, using the search terms “artificial intelligence,” “machine learning,” “economic impact,” “cost effectiveness” and “cost saving.” Overall, a deep dive into the PubMed archives led to 66 hits—but only six included enough information for the authors to conduct a thorough analysis. Even those six studies were lacking in a key way. Instead of including “a complete cost-benefit analysis,” they “focused on fragmented cost or cost-saving aspects.”

The jury, in other words, is still out. But Wolff’s team suggested two key areas of improvement for future cost assessments in this area. First, they explained, the initial AI investment and all operational costs must be included in any assessments.

“This is a core element for any strategic decision-making process, and the complete initial and operational investment costs for an AI solution must be compared with the expected economic benefits to provide concrete decision-making support,” they wrote.

The second key area of improvement identified in the study is that “further options to achieve a similar impact” must be explored. This helps researchers compare one strategy to another, emphasizing the financial impact of investing in AI—and the impact of choosing an “alternative strategy” instead.