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The socio-economic impact of AI on European health systems

Evolving technologies such as AI have the potential to assist European health systems in responding to major challenges they face

AI technologies can empower people, for example by helping citizens to be more informed and make healthier choices, and by supporting doctors in diagnosis and treatment decisions. Estimating the socio-economic impact of AI on European health systems is fundamental to advancing the current discourse on the role AI can and should have in health.

This study covers AI applications that can be used across the entire patient journey. Eight application categories are mapped: wearables, imaging, laboratory applications, physiological monitoring, real world data, virtual health assistance, personalised apps and robotics.

The socioeconomic impact is quantified through impacts on health outcomes, financial resources and time spent by healthcare professionals (HCPs). By estimating the number of saved lives, the cost savings and the hours freed up for HCPs, it is possible to quantify the potential impact of AI on Europe’s healthcare systems.

First, annually 380,000 to 403,000 lives can potentially be saved. Wearable AI applications could have the largest impact, saving up to 313,000 lives. This is followed by AI applications in monitoring (42,000 lives) and imaging (41,000 lives). Second, €170.9 to 212.4 billion could be saved annually, including the opportunity costs of HCP time. Wearable AI applications could have the largest impact with €50.6 billion of potential savings. Add to that AI applications in monitoring (€45.7 billion) and real world data (€38 billion).Finally, AI applications have the potential to free up 1,659 million to 1,944 million hours every year. This impact is led by AI applications in virtual health assistance (VHA) that could save up to 1,154 million hours per year. Other savings through AI applications include robotics (367.5 million hours) and wearables (336.1 million hours). This would allow HCPs to dedicate considerably more time to high-value activities.

AI could have a substantial socioeconomic impact in healthcare by improving patient outcomes and access, and optimising the use of resources. However, to reach its full potential a series of barriers that must be addressed by public and private stakeholders:

  • Data challenges include the fragmented data landscape and interoperability, as well as data quality, data privacy and protection and cybersecurity. High-quality data is important to train unbiased, robust and safe AI.
  • Legal and regulatory challenges are due to different legal frameworks regulating AI and data in healthcare. Guidance on applying and interpreting existing regulation should describe novel approaches to meet the requirements, promoting innovation and competitiveness.
  • Organisational and financial challenges arise where digitalisation and inclusion of AI in European health systems require substantial investments in several areas: infrastructure, digitalisation adoption, technologies, skills and training and shift from care to prevention. Additionally, broader adoption of AI in healthcare will require novel approaches to how technologies are funded, evaluated and reimbursed.
  • Social challenges need to be addressed regarding trust and understanding, governance and patient empowerment.

To unlock the full potential of AI in healthcare, European health systems and the broader ecosystem need to make improvements in a number of areas, including the ways such technologies are evaluated and reimbursed, workforce skills and training, and data interoperability and ownership. These barriers can be overcome with the collaboration of all stakeholders in the ecosystem: policy makers at all levels (EU, national and regional), healthcare providers, academia, industry and citizens. With this broad partnership, AI innovation and adoption can help ensure high-quality care for European citizens and put the EU at the forefront of a very innovative industry.

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