May 29 2024

The Chief AI Officer in Healthcare: Strategy, Tactics and Evangelism

More health systems are creating CAIO roles to address rising interest in artificial intelligence solutions.

The explosion of artificial intelligence and generative AI technology is having a profound impact on healthcare. And with adoption set to broaden and accelerate, many organizations plan to hire a chief AI officer to help define their AI strategy and speed adoption.

The CAIO is tasked with helping define the role AI will play, manage investments and priorities, address ethical and governance concerns, and act as an evangelist who can nurture talent and generate excitement about the possibilities AI brings.

DISCOVER: Prepare healthcare IT infrastructure for AI with expert guidance.

What Is a Chief AI Officer?

Dennis Chornenky, chief AI adviser at UC Davis Health and former CIAO for UnitedHealth Group’s Optum business, says the primary responsibility of the CAIO is to accelerate the adoption of AI capabilities while ensuring a balance between safety and innovation.

This entails selecting AI applications that are safe and also drive value and innovation for the organization and its stakeholders.

“The CAIO possesses expertise in four core areas: policy, regulatory environment, innovation and value creation,” Chornenky says. “They must understand how AI works with the associated technologies, such as electronic health records and practice management systems.”

This understanding is crucial for navigating the integration challenges that arise when adopting new AI applications, as they often impact operational workflows.

“Successful CAIOs excel in considering the broader implications of AI implementation, including changes to processes, operations, training and organizational culture within their specific industry,” he adds.

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Parminder Bhatia, CAIO of GE HealthCare, says that CAIOs play a crucial role in leading data science, AI, machine learning (ML) and engineering teams while providing a long-term strategic vision and alignment for organizations.

“They balance the complexities of building AI technologies by overseeing design, development and implementation, while also developing strategies to optimize resources and promote an AI-first approach,” he says.

This involves aligning efforts across various business units to ensure that AI capabilities are leveraged effectively and integrated seamlessly into organizations’ ecosystems.

“By unifying roles and aligning strategies, CAIOs facilitate collaboration and innovation across departments, ultimately driving the organization’s AI initiatives forward,” Bhatia says.

How Has the Role of CAIO Evolved?

Chornenky says the CAIO role has evolved as different organizations adopt varied perspectives and approaches.

“Some CAIOs focus primarily on policy and governance, ensuring safety, efficacy and fairness in AI use,” he says. “It’s maybe not so much an evolution but more the result of experimentation as organizations create the role with different perspectives on its function.”

He says the role is likely to continue its evolution as organizations determine whether to hire CAIOs from outside the company or promote internal talent.

Bhatia agrees that the CAIO role now requires increased attention to governance and risk management.

READ MORE: Pick the right AI solution to meet your organization’s goals.

This is particularly true in medical tech companies, which need to ensure compliance with regulatory requirements and establish governance policies related to model fairness, interpretability and accountability.

He adds that the role has also evolved to encompass talent development and evangelism to drive AI adoption and innovation within organizations.

“It’s not just about building the technology but hiring or building the right talent and how you uplift the current talent and make them more aware of the recent technology so everyone can start to use some of these technologies,” Bhatia says.

CAIOs Provide Multiple Advantages for Healthcare Organizations

Chornenky says employing CAIOs offers organizations a strategic advantage in navigating the dynamic landscape of AI and ML.

“With their specialized expertise and deep understanding of AI technologies, CAIOs serve as key advisers, guiding AI initiatives and ensuring alignment with strategic objectives,” he says. “One of the primary benefits of having a CAIO is agility.”

He explains that as AI advancements occur so rapidly and regulatory landscapes are in constant evolution, organizations must be responsive.

“CAIOs should have their finger on the pulse of industry trends and technological innovations. That enables the organization to adapt quickly to changes, both within the AI domain and in regulatory requirements,” Chornenky says.

This agility empowers healthcare organizations to proactively position themselves for emerging opportunities and respond promptly to challenges, fostering resilience and sustainability in a competitive market.

Moreover, the CAIO plays a pivotal role in driving innovation and fostering a culture of experimentation within organizations.

“By leveraging their expertise in AI and ML technologies, the CAIO encourages exploration and experimentation with new ideas, methodologies and technologies,” Chornenky adds.

CAIOs enable organizations to make informed decisions about investment priorities, resource allocation and risk management. This strategic guidance ensures competitive positioning in the market.

CAIOs Find Early Successes in Healthcare

Bhatia points to the successful development of foundational AI models, such as the SonoSAMTrack model, which was specifically designed to help enhance precision and consistency in ultrasound imaging, and Caption Guidance, an AI-powered technology providing sonographers with a co-pilot to enhance diagnostic imaging quality.

“User-friendly tools like this, which can integrate into the workflow and accelerate the ecosystem, are really interesting and exciting,” Bhatia says.

Chornenky highlights his success at Optum in standing up an AI governance framework and a review process, an approach he’s now applied to UC Davis Health to align focus on adopting these capabilities and bringing the benefits to patients.

“These have helped ensure safety and allowed us to speed adoption of AI with a proper roadmap and proper guardrails,” he says. “If done correctly, governance actually accelerates your ability to adopt these technologies.”

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