Of all the ways COVID-19 has impacted healthcare — such as the emergence of telehealth as a viable, useful solution for the provision of care — artificial intelligence is having a bit of a moment. Per countless reports, AI is seeing rapid adoption throughout healthcare to identify solutions to protect against the pandemic and gain an advantage against the seemingly unmitigated spread of the virus.

Sean Lane, the CEO of AI startup Olive, told Fierce Healthcare that AI will continue to accelerate at an unprecedented pace. "The pandemic is ... [accelerating] adoption of tech and the moment we've been waiting for in healthcare to embrace a future that is internet-like and changes the perception of what's necessary," Lane said.

Work on the technology is taking place at every level — from startups to tech goliaths and health systems and payers.

According to Lane, demand for Olive's AI-enabled robotic process automation solution has grown in the past five months, even though he began to prepare the company for no growth for a year to 18 months in March. “From a business perspective, nothing slowed down. It's sped up," he said.

Notably, Lane said that before the pandemic, he faced challenges of bringing his team toward adopting the technology and changes to workflow and processes.

AI is evolving in unplanned uses, too. According to Paul Friedman, M.D., the chairman of the cardiovascular department at Mayo Clinic, with the help of artificial intelligence, AI may be able to predict some future events of healthcare’s future.

Friedman and his team trained an AI algorithm embedded into standard electrocardiogram tests to detect which patients have a weak heart pump.

Likewise, the Food and Drug Administration granted Emergency Use Authorization to use AI technology to search for physiological issues in the heart associated with cases of COVID-19, Friedman said.

Machines are now surpassing their human counterparts in some cases as AI is applied to an increasing number of healthcare tasks, he said.

Researchers at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) also use AI to questions around how to reduce the amount of effort that goes on in healthcare, such a measuring healthcare quality, said Rebecca Jacobson, vice president of analytics at UPMC.

Artificial intelligence and machine learning also may help insurers. “We are using the AI approaches to try to protect future cost bubbles,” said Colt Courtright, chief data and analytics officer at Premera Blue Cross.

Insurers are starting to incorporate AI into claims management and customer service. Fierce Healthcare reports that insurers are also beginning to explore how AI can predict healthcare costs and outcomes.

Payer experts remain concerned about a possible wave of postponed and deferred care that may impact health systems as patients resume their services. "If we can predict, forecast, and personalize care virtually, then why not do that,” Rajeev Ronanki, senior vice president and chief digital officer at Anthem, told Fierce.

AI may be able to help predict healthcare costs and manage supply chains and other health services. “When you connect all those dots, AI can then be used to configure supply and demand better in anticipation of issues like this,” he said.

Ultimately, AI has the potential to provide data-driven clinical decision support (CDS) to physicians and health systems.

Google's Cloud Healthcare application programming interface (API) is helping doctors make more informed clinical decisions regarding patients. According to Business Insider, “AI used in Google Cloud takes data from users' electronic health records through machine learning — creating insights for healthcare providers to make better clinical decisions.”

Google assisted the University of California, Stanford University, and the University of Chicago to generate an AI system to predict hospital visits' outcomes.

Jennifer Lehmann, system director of revenue cycle at the University of California Health System, said, "COVID created a sense of urgency and gave people the purpose to align. The technology has been there for several years. What we lacked was the sense of purpose and that culture change of collaboration."