With 2023 drawing to a close, healthcare leaders are covering all bases as they plan for a successful new year in an unpredictable climate. For 2024, the most consistent trend I’ve seen is the rise of software and technology – especially AI – as a strategic priority.
At this point in the game, healthcare executives can either lean in or miss out on a world of opportunity. The latest Healthcare Provider IT Report from Bain and KLAS highlights the increasing importance of automation, especially AI, for providers. Confirming what many of us have already sensed, this report underscores how health system leaders increasingly look to technology investments to help solve some of their thorniest challenges: rising costs, labor shortages, reimbursement pressures, and other chronic headwinds.
Reflecting the momentous changes seen in 2023, a whopping 58% of health system leaders are now working on an AI adoption strategy or already have one in place. These efforts are promising, but there remains a substantial opportunity for forward-thinking healthcare organizations to accelerate efforts.
As healthcare leaders start to look toward 2024 and build more ambitious agendas for AI, here are five predictions I believe they need to anticipate and work into their plans for the coming year.
1. AI applications in healthcare will be overwhelmingly administrative.
While AI clinical use cases are plentiful, administrative use cases will roll out much more quickly in 2024 as they tend to be more fault-tolerant. These include scheduling appointments, coding, billing, and prior authorizations. Clinical AI will continue to face the same uphill battle that autonomous vehicles have: When human safety is involved, society’s tolerance for error in AI is effectively zero.
2. 2024 will see the beginning of the end for clinicians performing medical coding.
Medical coding has long been one of the largest pain points for doctors and nurses across the United States. As medical coding AI approaches 100% automation across most specialties, provider organizations will no longer rely on their clinicians for coding. In addition to freeing up clinician bandwidth, autonomous medical coding will deliver fewer denials, improved accuracy, and higher acuity.
3. Executives who led the first wave of AI adoption in healthcare will be in high demand.
Budget cuts and widespread labor shortages make the adoption of AI a necessity for most health systems. Leaders who actively took part in the first wave of AI implementations will have outsized opportunities to lead further transformation, whether it be at their current organizations, other health systems, as consultants, or in different fields.
4. AI adoption will be easier for organizations pursuing use cases they have historically outsourced.
Health systems that have outsourced functions tend to have better frameworks for management, performance metrics, contracting, and reporting. This means any health systems that replace existing labor-based vendors with AI solutions will likely see immediate, measurable ROI.
5. The first end-to-end real-time revenue cycle will emerge.
With medical coding automation rates hitting 100% in many specialties, 2024 will bring the first end-to-end real-time revenue cycle. Initially, this will happen with integrated delivery networks (IDNs) who, as both payor and provider, can be a little more flexible on implementation. My hope is that, over time, the superior patient, provider, and payor experience created by a real-time revenue cycle will drive payors and providers to partner more deeply around this next generation of technology.
Overall, 2024 is set to be an exciting year in healthcare. The pace of technological development with AI has finally unlocked powerful opportunities to quit the game of catch-up and turn around long-standing headwinds for providers.
If 2024 goals include making positive changes with AI, healthcare leaders should consider revenue cycle management as the place to start. Automating processes like medical coding first will cement meaningful proof points for an overall AI strategy. With tangible outcomes like reduced costs, alleviated staffing burdens, and improved revenue capture, AI-powered coding automation will help healthcare leaders start the new year on the right foot and prepare their organizations for the future.
Andrew Lockhart is Co-founder and CEO of Fathom, the leader in autonomous medical coding. Fathom applies cutting-edge deep learning and natural language processing (NLP) to produce complete coding results for patient encounters with zero human intervention. We deliver the highest automation rates and the broadest specialty coverage for leading health systems, physician groups, and revenue cycle management companies.