How Digital People can help cover healthcare shortage while saving health systems billions by 2026

The healthcare industry is undergoing massive transformation. With tele-health, mental health issues, patient costs, and clinician burnout on the rise, AI can help

Pre-pandemic, patient care followed a standard procedure: call a physician’s clinic, schedule an appointment — often weeks in advance — travel to the clinic, spend 19 minutes in the waiting room, then meet with a clinician for 14 minutes on average. Those days are coming to an end.

It’s safe to say that the year 2020 redefined healthcare. The forced adoption of telehealth facilitated an opportunity to improve efficiencies within the healthcare system to not only save costs, but also allow clinicians to spend more time with patients, even virtually. 

Prior to 2020, only 11% of all Americans had used telehealth — the ability to meet with a clinician virtually. Now, virtual care and use of telehealth in the US alone has increased by 1500%. This demand will continue to soar, but we may not have enough clinicians to take care of it. The World Health Organization has predicted a global healthcare shortage of over 12.9 million healthcare workers by 2035. 

In order to manage the shortfall, the healthcare industry will have to automate and modernize their operations. According to Accenture, AI can help cover 20% of this demand, while saving healthcare systems $150 billion/year by 2026. 

AI in healthcare is ramping up, and most are seeing the value and ROI. According to a study by KPMG, a majority of healthcare and life sciences executives (82%) want to see their organizations more aggressively adopt AI technology, and a majority of those that adopt (56%) feel that AI has delivered more value than expected for their organizations. The challenge now lies with how to select the systems that best suits their needs, with 73% saying that they’re unsure how to select the best technologies to implement.

AI can help cover 20% of the healthcare shortage, while saving healthcare systems $150 billion/year by 2026 – Accenture

Understanding how digital healthcare pays off

Hospital closures, cancelled elective procedures, higher expenses, healthcare financial strains, and lower patient volumes have led to historic reductions in hospital patient numbers in 2020. This, in turn, has driven significant losses in revenues and margin. In the US alone, the American Hospital Association has estimated losing more than $323 billion this year. All of these factors impact the health systems’ ability to serve their communities. 

“Artificial intelligence has the potential to transform how healthcare is delivered. It can support improvements in care outcomes, patient experience and access to healthcare services. It can increase productivity and the efficiency of care delivery and allow healthcare systems to provide more and better care to more people. AI can help improve the experience of healthcare practitioners, enabling them to spend more time in direct patient care and reducing burnout.” -McKinsey & Company

Automating manual administrative tasks

Long before the pandemic, primary healthcare physicians spent more time on administrative activities than on clinical activities. These inefficiencies in healthcare systems are costly, inconvenient, untimely and in some cases can be deadly.

“Healthcare is simply not keeping up. Without major structural and transformational change, healthcare systems will struggle to remain sustainable. AI has the potential to revolutionize healthcare and help address some of these challenges.” – McKinsey

  • For every hour primary care physicians spend in direct patient care, they spent two hours engaged in administrative functions
  • Clinicians are spending more time on electronic health records (EHR’s) and administrative tasks than on direct patient care
  • AI can help remove or minimize time spent on routine, administrative tasks which can take up to 70% of a healthcare practitioner’s time

PwC found post pandemic 73% of healthcare provider executives said their organizations are working on improving the clinician experience by automating administrative tasks. McKinsey Global Institute analysis highlighted that ‘AI automation could free up 10% of nursing activity alleviating the pain of healthcare work shortages.’

Digital People play a role in automating basic administration tasks while providing a human approach to care. Built with empathy from the start, Digital People can engage and gather information from patients, ask relevant questions, automatically create health records for patients’ and with thoughtful training could surface potential diagnosis for clinicians to review. Beyond this, AI could play a role in monitoring doctor- patient conversations to automate clinical notes and record keeping.

Digital Health Coaches

  • Florence, Digital Health Assistant

Florence is WHO’s first digital health worker; a trusted source of guidance to help tobacco users quit by delivering evidence-based brief advice techniques commonly used in health care settings. Florence has the unique ability to engage in real-time conversation with tobacco users, help them build a quit plan, combat misinformation about COVID-19 and tobacco, and refer them to digital cessation services (toll free quit lines, apps, mCessation projects) recommended by WHO. 

  • Sam, Covid-19 helper

Sam educates both employees and customers on Covid-19 and how to keep safe. She gives tips on handwashing and wearing masks and explains other information such as symptoms.

  • Amber, Digital STI Consultant (Image coming soon)

Combining AI, telehealth and diagnostics to form a trusted relationship with each patient, our healthcare client enables accessibility and confidentiality from the comfort of a patient’s home. Their Digital STI Nurse Amber provides education about sexually-transmitted infections (STIs), helps users order self-test kits, triages symptoms, and refers patients to a doctor.

Conclusion

Only a year ago, virtual care and telemedicine were considered opportunities for the future, rejected by skeptical healthcare traditionalists. The pandemic has revealed that no healthcare systems were prepared for this, leaving no other option than to adopt technology with urgency. The results are promising and there is good reason to be optimistic that AI is capable of delivering exceptional care. Successful integration of AI within healthcare systems could improve the quality of care considerably, reduce costs and balance clinician workload. 

The demands on the healthcare system are expected to surge for the duration of the pandemic, and likely in the aftermath as we see the roll out of vaccines. 

Digital People, when deployed correctly, could solve many pain points that clinicians face every day leading to more efficient and satisfied doctors, happier patients and more people getting the care they need, when they need it most. 

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