Advanced Computing in the Age of AI|Wednesday, December 2, 2020
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Healthcare AI Still Dominated by Specialists 

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The COVID-19 pandemic has fueled efforts to integrate artificial intelligence into the healthcare ecosystem. Those efforts have so far achieved mixed results, according to an investment survey that found AI startups with domain expertise outperforming enterprise AI leaders attempting to crack the AI healthcare market.

The AI healthcare assessment released this week by KLAS Research found that “cross-industry AI giants” such as Amazon, Google, IBM and Microsoft are investing heavily in the healthcare sector. Of those, about half of survey respondents said Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) offered the best AI tools, largely based on healthcare partnerships with domain experts.

Indeed, those AI startups scored highest in terms of healthcare AI technology and client base. Leaders include Jvion, a prescriptive analytics startup, and cognitive computing specialist Epic. The KLAS report noted that Microsoft has partnered with both firms along with other AI startups in an effort to customize its AI tools for the challenging healthcare market.

Despite a comprehensive collection of indexed medical publications and natural language processing tools for tapping drug prescription databases, half of respondents viewed IBM’s Watson Health offering as “weak,” according to the report.

“Organizations passed on IBM due to skepticism about outcomes as well as concerns about cost and over-marketing,” the study noted, with skeptics concluding that “IBM’s marketing outpaces their delivery.”

Indeed, declining sales and growing skepticism about the utility of machine learning for complex medical research prompted IBM (NYSE: IBM) to pull the plug last year on sales of its Watson AI software used by pharmaceutical firms for new drug discovery.

Other large AI and cloud vendors targeting the healthcare sector fared only slightly better. Part of the reason is the healthcare sector is only beginning to access AI tools via the cloud.

Source: KLAS Research

Google’s (NASDAQ: GOOGL) AI platform is viewed as strong in terms of its sheer quantity of open-source information used for health-related data science. Like its cloud rivals, however, Google lacks domain experience, prompting survey respondents to distrust Google with their data.

Amazon’s (NASDAQ: AMZN) growing lists of cloud-based AI tools, including SageMaker, have helped the public cloud leader gain “mindshare in healthcare,” the report continued. For example, AWS introduced a machine learning tool last year to transcribe physicians’ patient notes. Current dictation software requires users to specify punctuation when dictating medical notes.

As with other cloud vendors promoting healthcare AI tools, survey respondents viewed Amazon as “lacking a nuanced understanding of healthcare.”

For now, the AI healthcare field, like traditional healthcare, remains "fractured," Jeff Becker, a senior analyst at Forrester, told the New York Times.

As the number of AI healthcare startups grows, deep-pocketed AI developers like Microsoft will likely expand healthcare partnerships into acquisitions as a way to gain credibility in a complex market.

About the author: George Leopold

George Leopold has written about science and technology for more than 30 years, focusing on electronics and aerospace technology. He previously served as executive editor of Electronic Engineering Times. Leopold is the author of "Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom" (Purdue University Press, 2016).

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