AI And Healthcare Take Center Stage At SXSW

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Artificial intelligence was a hot topic at SXSW 2023. Healthcare leaders need to think strategically about its potential uses and develop sound governance models.

Heiyab Tessema  and  Eric Lu

3 min read

From the next generation of ChatGPT to fighting climate change, artificial intelligence dominated the news at SXSW 2023, including the healthcare track. Although the potential for AI to disrupt our lives has been on the radar for a few years, what’s making it so hot now are the real-world applications that are coming to life. We see it across healthcare, whether it’s Google integrating AI into search to aid patients on their care journeys, pharmaceutical companies using it in drug development, or AI helping clinicians detect diseases.

We were in Austin to hear firsthand how people inside and outside of healthcare are thinking not only about AI, but other ways of reshaping the industry. Three themes stood out:

  • Think strategically: While there’s a lot of optimism around the promise of AI and other technologies, it’s vital that organizations start with strategy. Leaders need to first ask, “What problem are we solving,” and then focus on tools and technologies. Using AI for AI’s sake is not a solution. It’s also important to consider the short- and long-term implications of their strategies — what investments and groundwork can they lay down now to capitalize on the evolution of AI as it becomes more integrated into our daily lives.
  • Think about equity: This was a major theme across panels. AI algorithms are only as good as the data that they are fed. Unfortunately, there is a lot of bias in the data currently collected across the industry. We need to ensure that data going into AI and machine learning doesn’t perpetuate health inequities. There should also be equitable access to and use of AI across all sectors of the industry; access that includes proper education and demystifying the technology.
  • Think about governance: AI is an incredibly powerful tool but using it to draft an email is very different from using it to make what could be a life-and-death decision. The responsibility of using AI goes up a level in healthcare. Organizations must develop governance models and guardrails. A key part of that process means ensuring AI is used properly with processes and workflows. For instance, AI can be a support tool to increase efficiency or aid clinical decision-making, but it shouldn’t directly make clinical decisions. That came through loud and clear on several panels: people are not ready for AI to replace the judgment of medical professionals. 

Being at SXSW was energizing. It was amazing seeing people with diverse backgrounds and passions come together to try and solve major problems. You can check out more of our insights in this short video.

To learn more contact Matthew Weinstock, Senior Editor, Health and Life Sciences.