The impact of artificial intelligence on healthcare has been a topic of discussion for quite some time. But at the HIMSS 2017 event, I was struck by the reality that AI has moved from a discussion about the future to a present-day topic with more urgency.


I lost track of how many vendors and speakers talked about the ways they are applying AI to influence functions ranging from outcomes analysis to patient care management. And as my colleague Francois Toubol noted, IBM CEO Ginni Rometty delivered a keynote on cognitive healthcare, which applies cognitive learning to improve patient health in a more cost effective way. It’s clear to me that the future of electronic medical records will be shaped by cognitive learning, or systems that determine, diagnose, and recommend treatment.


Without question, the speed of AI’s uptake in healthcare faces both challenges and opportunities. But the question is not if AI will influence healthcare, but how quickly and how far. To me, the catalyst will come from a major company that has influence across the entire healthcare ecosystem, from patient discovery to retention. IBM could be that kind of company. We’ve barely seen IBM flex its muscles with AI in healthcare although we’re going to see a lot of muscle flexing with IBM Watson Health.


I am intrigued by the possibility for the healthcare AI catalyst to be a company that’s not even part of the conversation right now. And if I’ve learned anything about healthcare, it’s the potential for an outsider to disrupt the industry. Years ago how many of us thought of Apple or Google as healthcare brands? And yet Apple and Google are shaping the future of healthcare. Or how many of us thought of ride-share companies getting into healthcare? And yet Lyft is partnering with healthcare systems to provide healthcare access on-demand.


My advice to our healthcare clients: form as many relationships as you can with businesses that are influencing the uptake of AI — both inside and outside healthcare. Scan the horizon to understand how players such as Gamalon are developing technologies in areas like deep learning. A company such as SIM Partners is in a good position to help because of the way we touch the entire healthcare ecosystem. Whatever you do, don’t let the future happen to you. Be part of it. Being connected by potential AI catalysts is an important way to do so.


The AI catalysts just might have been at HIMSS 2017. How many did you meet?