As US health systems prioritize financial recovery and innovation in the wake of the pandemic, the pressure is on to re-evaluate their infrastructure and emerging technology investments, and to ensure their efforts not only support the future of healthcare delivery, but also provide services more efficiently and cost-effectively.

While there is no widely agreed-upon definition of a smart hospital, healthcare executives are nonetheless working toward their visions of the hospital of the future. The digital solutions that health systems are deploying today—like AI—are effectively steps in their evolution into smart hospitals.

Artificial intelligence in healthcare

Several experts Insider Intelligence spoke with agree: A smart hospital triggers action. It effectively leverages AI and machine learning to not only learn from the data, but also act on the data by building automation around it. “A smart hospital takes in information from sensors, processes it in the data center, and then triggers a result,” said Dr. Andrew Gostine, CEO of Artisight, an IoT sensor network provider. “In this way, a smart hospital will start providing clinical care the way clinicians do.”

Several experts Insider Intelligence spoke with agree: A smart hospital triggers action.

AI technology is integral to the hospital of the future. Smart hospital solutions use AI to capture and process information, then build automation around the data. Due to the pandemic, healthcare executives in the US are more interested in AI and automation technology than ever.

In January 2021, 61% of those in the C-suite said their organization planned to deploy AI or machine learning tech in the coming year, per the BDO USA survey. That is significantly higher than the 38% who said their organization was currently deploying the technology. Half of hospital or health system leaders said in February 2021 that their organization either had deployed automation technology or had driven positive results from automation investments and was expanding capabilities in that vein, according to a Guidehouse survey conducted by the Healthcare Financial Management Association (HFMA). Only 15% said the same in similar 2020 polling.

Half of hospital or health system leaders said their organization either had deployed AI in healthcare or had already driven positive results from it - Insider Intelligence
Half of hospital or health system leaders said their organization either had deployed AI in healthcare or had already driven positive results from it Insider Intelligence

In fact, the Guidehouse study also found the number of US hospitals that have deployed automation technologies has tripled since 2020.

Putting AI in healthcare into action

Over the past year, several companies have released platforms and services that simplify the development of various AI healthcare solutions. In May 2020, for example, Nvidia launched Clara Guardian, an application framework and partner ecosystem that combine smart sensors and multimodal AI to help developers build smart hospital solutions like fall detection, infection control, thermal sensing, and patient monitoring.

At Intermountain Healthcare, a health system based in Salt Lake City, Olive developed an AI platform that features natural language processing (NLP) technology and aggregates patient data on various surgical procedures into cohorts of comparable cases. The startup also worked closely with surgeons to determine why clinical variations were occurring. In 2018, the company said that this work yielded tens of millions of dollars in savings over several years.

Flagler Hospital in St. Augustine, Florida, tapped AI software developed by Ayasdi to optimize care pathways for pneumonia. As a result of the partnership, the hospital was able to save $1,350 per pneumonia patient and reduce the length of stay by two days, according to a Healthcare Innovation article from April 2019.