AI in the health sector

Artificial intelligence is becoming more commonplace in New Zealand’s health sector, but there is still some way to go for the sector to fully embrace the available technology, says Ryl Jensen.

Are you seeing NZ business leaders starting to pay much more attention to AI and what it might do for their business?

In health, AI is becoming more commonplace. To put it simply, health technology will not advance as quickly without the assistance of AI. 

In health, AI will mean more efficient processes can take place as tasks are automated;  more equity of access to healthcare for consumers;  more surgeries can be completed;  patients will have greater access to their health records, and greater access to cutting edge tools to assist on their health journey.

AI has the ability to analyse big data sets in health – pulling together patient insights and leading to more preventative healthcare in the future. 


In what areas/sectors are you seeing the interest popping up? 

eMental health where live digital humans with facial expressions are used as “chatbots” and help people through challenging scenarios. They are even used to help quit smoking. 

The next generation of radiology tools will come into play where a simple 2D image can be turned into a 3D image for clinicians to be able to pinpoint health issues and disease much more accurately. 

AI is also used to help simplify the recording of data for clinicians by deploying digital humans to help automate administration tasks like referrals. 

AI will be used in every department from operating theatres to emergency departments, wards, laboratories, radiology, hospital administration, and the ICU and will provide clinical decision support tools.

 Even consumer wearables are contributing to AI uptake in the health system. 


How advanced do you think NZ’s corporate and public sector leaders are in their thinking around AI? 

AI is deployed significantly in the healthcare system in areas such as the ICU to help better monitor patients and sense the development of complications, however I think overall we have some way to go in New Zealand to fully embrace AI. 

We seem to be hampered by some regulatory constraints and also by education in the use of the AI tools in the health sector. 

There is no want for trying to bring AI in by leading-edge organisations, however the system in New Zealand is in some areas not yet mature enough digitally to be able to accept many of the technologies coming out of other countries.

 The thinking is there, but the constraints are holding us back. 

There are many leading-edge companies that develop AI tools like Soul Machines, Replikr, Virtual Blue, Fisher and Paykel Healthcare, Johnson & Johnson and others. 

These companies either use digital humans to represent people or digital humans to automate administrative tasks like referrals, build AI robotic tools or develop AI in the use of radiology. 


What are the first steps you would suggest a CEO might take to start the AI journey for their particular business? 

Take a look around in the marketplace for AI tools that can help reduce administrative tasks in their business. It helps reduce human error and speeds up efficiency. I would start there.


 Is most of the work around data and gaining more insights into patients needs? Or is it in other areas? 

Yes, I do believe so. The Ministry of Health is about to undertake a large programme of work called Hira which will finally mean New Zealand’s health and disability sector will have a joined up digital health ecosystem, and health consumers will have access to their health records via patient portals. 

This will revolutionise how healthcare is delivered in New Zealand and provide the ability for many more new and innovative technologies to be accepted into the health system, including ramping up the use of AI.   


Ryl Jensen is the general manager at New Zealand Health IT (NZHIT), a peak body for the New Zealand digital health industry sector.

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