The March issue of Health Affairs demonstrates the potential of health care delivery system innovation to improve value for both patients and clinicians. Technology innovations such as machine learning and artificial intelligence systems are promising breakthroughs to improve diagnostic accuracy, tailor treatments, and even eventually replace work performed by clinicians, especially that of radiologists and pathologists. Machine-learning systems infer patterns, relationships, and rules directly from large volumes of data in ways that can far exceed human cognitive capacities. As the computational underpinning of tools such as e-mail spam filters, product and content recommendations, targeted advertisements, and, more recently, autonomous vehicles, machine learning is already ubiquitous in many economic sectors. Yet, machine-learning applications are still used sparingly today in the delivery of care.
Electronic health records (EHR) systems, and the digitization of health data more broadly, have promised to transform health care to be more intelligent, safe, efficient, and cost-effective. While machine learning can be a key enabler of this promise, most EHR vendors do not provide robust machine learning, natural language processing, cognitive computing, and artificial intelligence solutions to process internally generated or imported health data, which come in a variety formats (for example, text, images, claims, genomics, and so forth). More general limitations of machine learning, such as the difficulty in interpreting results and describing to clinician users how algorithms arrive at particular outcomes, have further hindered adoption in health care.