LAS VEGAS — Artificial intelligence was dominating CES 2024 this week. From assistive speech tools to pet wearables to AI-enabled pillows to prevent snoring, the majority of companies exhibiting at CES boasted the use of the technology as part of their products.
Digital health companies at the show also are putting AI to use from Intuition Robotics' AI-enabled ElliQ care companion robot to hearing eyewear.
Amid all this hype, entrepreneur and investor Mark Cuban believes AI will be transformative for healthcare.
"There are two types of companies in the world — those who are great at AI and everyone else and either you know how to use it to your advantage or you’re in trouble," he said during a digital health panel at CES on Thursday.
He added, "I don’t think it will be dominated by five or six big models. I think there will be millions of models. I think we’ll find every company will have a model, every vertical will have its own model, individuals will have their own models, doctors have their own models, and trying to get to the point where it’s more democratic so that specific verticals will be used within healthcare is going to be an evolution and I don’t think we’ve figured all that out."
But, there are thorny issues to tackle with the use of generative AI and large language models in healthcare.
"For healthcare, the biggest issue right now is IP [intellectual property] protection and the way access to information may change going forward," the Shark Tank star said. "If I’m at a Mayo Clinic, Cleveland Clinic or Stanford, I don’t want all my stuff to be used equally with the others in someone’s bigger model, like ChatGPT for healthcare or whatever. I want to retain that for myself. How we will deal with IP protection is going to influence how AI is implemented within healthcare ."
Mark Cuban jumped into healthcare with his pharmacy benefits company Cost Plus Drug which aims to provide affordable prescription medications with transparent pricing. The company is making waves as incumbent pharmacy giants like CVS and Walgreens are now following Cost Plus' blueprint to offer transparent drug pricing.
Blue Shield of California also announced in August that it was teaming up with Mark Cuban's Cost Plus Drug Company and Amazon Pharmacy, turning away from traditional drug store chains.
Glen Tullman, CEO of Transcarent, an employer health startup, said he sees the benefit of AI to reduce administrative pain points for clinicians and create more personalized services for patients.
"We have physicians who are across the board burned out and beat up on what they get paid. We can use AI to simplify the paperwork piece," he said while sharing the stage with Cuban during the CES panel. Transcarent launched a new service called 10x designed to improve physician efficiency, he said.
"We also can use AI to improve the quality of the experience because we can use it to personalize what you need. If you’re a man above the age of 50 or a woman age 25, you have different needs. AI can help there and enrich the conversation. We can use AI to actually put the consumer in much more control, as far as overall interaction. We see AI having immediate and direct impacts on efficiency and quality and the amount of information to give people more choices," Tullman said.
He noted that a study has shown that the average physician spends more time figuring out which pharmacy to send a patient's prescription to than diagnosing the patient.
Cuban quipped, "We simplify that by giving them one answer."
Eighteen months ago, Transcarent launched a pharmacy program that enables members to search for the lowest-cost drug option and compare prices across pharmacies. It also partners with healthcare technology company Prescryptive Health to power its new pharmacy benefit offering.
"Our businesses are designed to simplify healthcare and make it easy and more accessible and allow people to go to quality providers," Tullman said.
Both Cuban and Tullman noted that consumers are in the driver's seat in a post-COVID world and urged startup founders and innovators to focus on meeting consumers' needs and simplifying the healthcare experience.
New price transparency regulations that require hospitals and payers to post their prices for different service and procedures now arm consumers with new information to make more informed healthcare decisions, they both noted.
Many consumers are choosing cash-pay services rather than going through insurance as it can often cost less than the deductible, Cuban said.
"As long as your deductible is greater than zero or uninsured, ask the hospital for the cash price," he said, noting that he recently did that for a family member's MRI. "Sometimes, if you call two or three times, you get lower and lower prices."
"We pay way more than we should and that leads to higher costs and less care for people who need it. It's an equity issue, a fairness issue and a quality issue," Tullman said.
Cuban also urged employers to "dig in," and examine how much insurance benefits for their employees cost and look for alternatives.
"The whole system is designed to squeeze every nickel that they can from you. You need to get past the long-held beliefs of how you thought how things needed to be done and break the old molds and save a shit ton of money," he said. "Go back to your employers and ask, 'Are we using Cost Plus? Are we using Transcarent?' That can help create a better experience and lower cost."
Tullman encouraged startup founders and entrepreneurs to focus on the consumer experience and to leverage technology to make simplify processes for patients and providers-