This venture capitalist sees plenty of promise in AI in healthcare. But challenges are ahead, too

“Garbage in, garbage out.” So goes the adage about computing that argues the results rendered by the “thinking” machines will be flawed if the information fed into the devices proves to be erroneous.

However, generative AI—the idea that a computer can self-correct—challenges the cliché, Dennis L. McWilliams, a partner at Santé Ventures, told Fierce Healthcare. Santé Ventures, an early-stage venture capital firm, specializes in healthtech, medtech and biotech investments.

“One of the interesting things when you look at large language models like ChatGPT, they seem to have the ability to overcome that,” McWilliams said. “Not to get too technical, once they work through a certain threshold of training, the algorithms learn to sort out the garbage.”

For example, that’s not how it works with current computer algorithms that might evaluate X-rays, McWilliams said. “If your data set is messy, your algorithms are going to be messy. And if your data set has inherent biases, your algorithm is going to have biases,” he said. “In generative AI—at least a preliminary view of these really large data sets—that, to some extent, gets easier to manage.”

McWilliams said that it’s still too early to determine just how AI will fit into the healthcare system. While the capabilities seem endless, McWilliams said that who will pay for the technology remains an open question.

For now, venture capital firms like Santé Ventures will back the growth of generative AI in this market. But they don’t expect to lead that charge forever, McWilliams said.

“But at the end of the day, these companies are looking to build revenue themselves,” McWilliams said. “So, they’ve got to turn those investor dollars into revenue dollars and growth dollars. If you’re simply developing a new algorithm that you’re going to drop into the hospital system, it’s really difficult to convince the hospital to come out of their margin pocket to pay for that.”

For patients, McWilliams sees AI as a next-generation WebMD, although that’s not on the market just yet. “People can have a much more immersive and complete evaluation done, as opposed to just going on the internet and typing into Google your symptoms,” he said.

Providers will also be weighed by AI, he said. “As we all know, there’s a ton of variability in quality. I mean, if you go to an infectious disease expert in downtown Manhattan, that’s a lot different than going to one in the middle of rural New Mexico, right? For any physician who wants to access knowledge, AI is going to fundamentally change everything.”

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