IHI Forum Kicks Off With Focus on AI, Decarbonization, and Equity

By Jay Kumar

More than 3,000 attendees have gathered in Orlando, Florida, this week for the Institute of Healthcare Improvement (IHI) Forum, which officials say will mainly focus on three themes: the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in healthcare, reducing healthcare’s carbon footprint, and improving health equity.

The annual quality improvement conference will feature more than 400 presenters and 200 sessions on a variety of topics, said IHI President and CEO Kedar Mate, MD, in a media briefing.

AI in healthcare

AI has been a hot topic in many industries, but especially in healthcare, said Mate, who’s been part of an AI Code of Conduct committee for healthcare. The group is working to develop a “set of ground rules for how AI should interface with healthcare,” he said.

While there are plenty of positive aspects that AI brings—including improved diagnostics and clinical decision making—Mate noted that there are also concerns about the risks of AI, such as when there’s a wrong diagnosis and physicians place too much trust in AI and go along with it. Still, the clinical use of AI is still in its very early stages and being tested, he added.

Another dimension of AI that’s being studied is its impact on the patient experience and whether patients can get better answers to their questions delivered in a timelier fashion.

Decarbonization and health

The issue of decarbonizing healthcare has also taken center stage at IHI, Mate said. Hospitals are major contributors of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and the IHI helped develop a primer of actions hospitals could take to decarbonize. A group of 14 health systems has spent six to eight months putting the primer’s recommendations into practice and has seen positive results, he said.

The biggest areas of attention for decarbonization are anesthetic gases, electricity use, and fleet management, but Mate said another that’s starting to be studied is scope 3 emissions, which consist of “all the other things healthcare uses that we don’t have control over.” One of the areas in the hospital that was identified was single-use products in the surgical service line, he added.

Don Berwick, MD, MPP, FRCP, KBE, the IHI’s co-founder and current President Emeritus/Senior Fellow, said healthcare contributes 8.5% of GHG emissions in the U.S. The Department of Health and Human Services has set a goal for a 50% reduction of GHGs by 2030.

It’s good that organizations are paying attention to the problem, but there’s also a downside. “We have an authenticity issue going on,” he said, noting that many organizations are “greenwashing,” falsely claiming they’re environmentally friendly.

Health equity

Last year’s IHI Forum saw the launch of the Rise to Health Coalition, which was formed to address issues of inequity throughout healthcare. Mate said more than 550 organizations across healthcare have joined the group, working to address equity issues in their specialty areas.

The idea is to improve equity in their areas and then take that advocacy out to a wider audience.

Breaking the ‘stupid rules’

Berwick said he’s been working on an initiative to identify and break “stupid rules” that are getting in the way of the patient or staff experience. In February 2023, the IHI Leadership Alliance members, Healthcare Improvement Alliance Europe, and global members led the third iteration of the “Breaking the Rules for Better Care” initiative, in which leaders were encouraged to ask their patients and staff if they could break or change any rule to improve the care experience for patients or staff, what would it be?’

More than 154 organizations participated in the Breaking the Rules for Better Care coalition, and in one week over 600 rules were identified. When those rules were “broken,” “it generated a really buoyant response” from staff and patients, he said.

Berwick said the IHI will launch a similar project at this year’s Forum, which is also being replicated in Europe.