The field of healthcare is changing dramatically, revisiting age-old concepts of how and where care can be delivered, as evident with the rise of telemedicine, online pharmacies, healthcare startups and other digital tools. Yet it is also an area in which a delicate dance is necessary, one that involves an adequate balance of technology and human interaction, as maintaining a human connection that is authentic as well as empathetic is critical. Additionally, many hospitals and health care offices today are also merging into larger regional health providers, which potentially clouds the customer service picture even further.
AI has the potential to power this new healthcare environment, provide a seamless experience for both patients and care providers, and offer experiences that are more personalized and in line with the changing needs and expectations of patients. It has the potential to transform an industry that has largely been steeped in tradition, manual processes and outdated technologies.
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Helping a Weary Workforce of Healthcare Workers
The past several years have been especially challenging for those working in the industry. As healthcare leaders discussed in a U.S. News & World Report webinar, front-line workers have faced increased levels of stress caused by systemic changes to care delivery, which has been exacerbated by the pandemic.
While physicians were at twice the risk for burnout compared to the general population even prior to the pandemic, increases in patient volume, along with the pressure of meeting more regulations and requirements, have left healthcare providers feeling overwhelmed and with less time to interact with their patients in one-on-one settings.
What’s more, healthcare is a field that is heavy on paperwork, so much so that it is often a roadblock for providers, with some doctors spending the same amount of time on this task as they do seeing patients. From medical records, to insurance and intake forms, there is a lot of time spent on the little details that make up a patient’s health profile.
“When I started, the paperwork was one flow sheet you used to record vital signs, one sheet to tick off your patient’s activities and a place for notes. The paperwork has tripled and then you have to add it into the computer. Patients want you to have time with them, and your primary job is to sit there and hold their hand. That’s nursing.”
– A recently retired nurse from Kelowna, B.C.
How can we reinvigorate this workforce and allow them to concentrate on the quintessential part of their profession – their patients?
Capable of dealing with highly repeatable patient queries, AI-powered chatbots can easily gather routine data, facilitate payments and insurance procedures, or help a patient locate an appropriate clinic or specialist.
Collecting the bulk of information beforehand paves the way for providers to have meaningful interactions with patients, also ensuring that they are armed with the necessary details of the patient’s situation. The profiles completed by patients can also help to prioritize specific types of care. That is, for patients with depression or self-harm issues whose responses need to be scored, for instance, the virtual assistant does the scoring of responses to dramatically speed up the process. The result? A tremendous amount of resources and manpower is saved, affording medical professionals time to prioritize their attention on providing medical treatment and care, on issues that are more complex, sensitive, and necessitate a human touch.
Meeting Patients Where They (Virtually) Are
Along with the changing nature of the industry, and its shift towards digital, experience and expectations have also evolved, as patients today crave convenience, such as having the ability to easily schedule appointments or download their health records on the go. Yes, patients differ in terms of how they seek care, and some may play a more active role than others, so making it simple for patients to engage with their care providers across channels, no matter where they are, is essential. In a digital world where the lines between virtual and in-person care are blurring, there is an opportunity for healthcare providers to better engage and support patients to ensure that they continue to receive high-quality care throughout the continuum of their care journey.
Alongside workforce issues, changing customer expectations, and the COVID-19 pandemic, the adoption of telemedicine (enabling patients to connect with their physicians remotely) has skyrocketed. While the global telemedicine market size stood at USD $41.63 billion in 2019, it is projected to grow from $79.79 billion in 2020 to a staggering $396.76 billion by 2027. With the rise of telemedicine, AI can help to empower this booming field, by facilitating the connections between patients and their healthcare providers, and making these connections seamless. In this new and different environment, there is also a new rise in customer behavior, and therefore, more questions and issues will likely arise. There is a need for providers to adapt care strategies to align with this novel environment. How can patients be provided with timely services, and all of their needs attended to, quickly and efficiently?
Providing Personalized and Proactive Care
Customers today also crave personalized experiences tailored specifically to them – as it influences brand loyalty and makes them more inclined to do business with a company. In the world of healthcare, offering a personalized approach to treatment and care is of utmost importance, as patients have their own unique health needs, along with clinical history and risk factors. What’s more, diligent follow-up care (such as the remote monitoring of symptoms, ensuring medication adherence, and timely follow-up checkups) may lead to better outcomes, as when such care fails, a patient is more likely to wind up back in a hospital or with a need for additional care. Research has found that as many as 40 to 50% of patients with chronic diseases do not take their medication as prescribed. AI can play a key, and potentially life-saving role in this, such as proactively sending a text to ensure that a patient is taking their medication, answering drug-related queries by directing a patient to a knowledge base, or sending post-visit questionnaires.
AI can play a vital role in turning healthcare from reactive to proactive in this new virtual environment. It can, for instance, remind patients and facilitate the scheduling of follow-up appointments, automatically renew prescriptions, arrange transportation to an appointment for an elderly patient who lives alone, or send a daily form for a patient to monitor their symptoms. If a patient indicates that they are feeling low that particular day, a virtual assistant could then suggest mental health resources to address anxiety, which can be easily sourced from a knowledge base. Such options for self-service aid in providing information that the patient needs, exactly when they need it, which can also help them make the right decisions at the right time.
AI-powered chatbots can help to maximize the power of knowledge bases, by automatically surfacing and summarizing articles that are most relevant to a user’s question. As medical terminology and concepts are often quite complex, providing information in a transparent and easily digestible way is crucial in helping patients feel empowered and remain more engaged throughout their healthcare journey.
Protecting Sensitive Patient Data with Care
In the world of healthcare, trust is essential – trust in medical providers, and trust in the system at large. When transitioning components of care from the physical to the virtual environment, security issues are a concern, as conversations are no longer solely confined within the four walls of a room. It’s important that AI virtual assistants are HIPAA compliant and can handle sensitive healthcare conversations with care, so patients can rest assured that personal information is safely managed.
Redefining the Patient Experience
Healthcare is personal as well as emotional, and, unlike in other customer-facing industries, the stakes are high. While stakeholders are creating innovative solutions and methods for patients to receive care both virtually and in person, it is necessary to account for the entire experience, offering a complete and coordinated solution. AI-powered solutions can allow for more patient personalization, encouraging them to take an active role in their care journey while also allowing for greater efficiency in the healthcare system. This type of proactive, personalized and always-on care is extremely powerful and potentially life-saving.