Accenture: AI, blockchain will have 'transformational' impact in next 3 years

The majority of healthcare organizations are experimenting with at least one of these emerging technologies: distributed ledgers, artificial intelligence, extended reality or quantum computing.

And 68% of healthcare executives believe the combination of these technologies will have a "transformational" or "extensive" impact on their organizations in the next three years, according to an Accenture report.

Nearly all (94%) of the surveyed healthcare executives said they believe emerging technologies have accelerated the pace of innovation over the past three years. 

However, while technology investments have progressed, healthcare organizations must do more to meet rising consumer and employee expectations for when, where and how they experience care, according to the Accenture report, based on a survey of 221 healthcare executives.

For example, three-fourths (77%) of health executives believe their employees are currently more digitally mature than their organization, resulting in a workforce “waiting” for the organization to catch up.

While investments in social, mobile, analytics and cloud technologies—what Accenture refers to as SMAC technologies—are progressing and demonstrating value, healthcare organization leaders must look toward what’s next to differentiate in this new era.

"There is no longer a separation of digital and non-digital," the Accenture report said. Eighty percent of healthcare executives agree SMAC has moved beyond adoption silos to become part of the core technology foundation for their organization.

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But healthcare enterprises have not come as far in adoption maturity as other industries. The adoption of SMAC in healthcare also varies by industry sector. Payers have embraced these technologies to a greater degree than providers over the past decade, according to Accenture.

When compared with 20 industries, healthcare is among the most vulnerable to future disruption, according to Accenture's research. "The most successful healthcare organizations will be those that recognize change is in motion. While driving the use of social mobile, analytics and cloud technologies to maturity in their application to healthcare, they will be thinking about and planning for the future impact of emerging technologies on their organization," Accenture said.

Of the four emerging technologies—AI, blockchain, extended reality and quantum computing—41% of healthcare executives believe AI will have the greatest impact on their organization over the short term.

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Organizations are working to incorporate AI into different aspects of healthcare, including diagnostics and radiology. Startup Buoy Health partnered with CVS Health to use its AI-based chatbot to provide diagnosis and treatment information to patients and then refer patients to one of the company's 1,100 MinuteClinic locations.

Froedtert Health and the Medical College of Wisconsin also partnered with Buoy to deliver an interactive digital tool that allows users to enter their symptoms and receive—in real time—personalized analysis and recommendations for care options.

Cedars-Sinai Medical Center has tested virtual reality for pain management. By teaching patients how to better cope with pain through breathing techniques and positive thinking, researchers there were able to reduce pain by 24% after 10 minutes.

Cleveland Clinic and Zygote Medical Education are using virtual reality to move clinical anatomy curricula out of the cadaver lab and into a virtual environment. Students can use their mobile devices to access precise 3D models of anatomy and connect with peers all over the world.

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“Like other aspects of their daily lives, consumers increasingly expect technology to enable health organizations to meet them when, how and where they want care,” Kaveh Safavi, M.D., senior managing director of Accenture’s health business, said in a statement. "Despite considerable effort to-date, there remains a long journey ahead to deliver the rich, individualized, experience-based relationships that modern patients demand"

One thing is clear, Safavi said: It is no longer a matter of if these needs will be met, but when. Investing in emerging technologies will be crucial to developing new pathways into the future, he said.

Some other findings from the survey:

  • 87% of healthcare executives agree that the integration of customization and real-time delivery is the next big wave of competitive advantage.
  • 82% agree 5G will revolutionize healthcare by offering new ways to provide products and services.
  • 86% believe that consumers’ digital demographics are increasingly becoming a more powerful way to understand their customers.
  • 68% agree that within the next three years, every employee in their organizations will be empowered with access to a team of bots to accomplish their work.