Driven by consumer demand automation is coming to healthcare and in many ways is already here. Longer lifespans coupled with unhealthy lifestyles has led to a surge in chronic health conditions, requiring a level of care that current hospital staff will be unable to handle. Adapting to the needs of this growing chronic disease population is not the only challenge. Three out of four hospital and health system CEOs cite that cost reduction and efficiency are their top two priorities. Automation offers an answer to consumer demands and a solution to these immense healthcare pressures, but it’s up to physicians and care practitioners to adopt and adapt to them.
The advent of automation during the industrial revolution and the subsequent loss of jobs in the manufacturing industry led to a negative stigma towards technologies that could compete with human labor. Today, as technology has become smaller, smarter, and faster, automation is an indispensable tool in modern life. It has the power to render simple and repetitive tasks obsolete, instead allowing people to focus their attention and energies on tasks that require more complex and specialized skill sets. In the 1970s, pharmacies introduced automation to medication counting. Though many people feared it would make pharmacists superfluous, automation revolutionized the role of pharmacists by redirecting their focus to more clinically relevant, productive, and patient-facing work.
As healthcare shifts towards value-based care, automation can be incorporated into the physician workflow to make clinical day-to-day tasks much more efficient, cost effective, and patient centric. Three concrete benefits of embracing this shift are increased workflow efficiency, improved care management for improved outcomes, and improved adherence and knowledge through digital engagement.
Streamlining the healthcare workflow
Automation technology in healthcare will create a more comprehensive understanding of patients through integrated electronic health records (EHRs). EHRs, once fully integrated, will provide patient healthcare information electronically, which will improve health outcomes by enabling more personalized treatments and allowing physicians and care practitioners more time to train, engage with patients, and contribute to their specialization. Sensors, passive and active data collection, analytics, and computer automation can improve much of a physician’s daily tasks, such as routine check-ups, diagnoses, testing, referrals, and writing prescriptions. Yet, complete implementation has not been embraced due to less than optimal solutions and a general anxiety about automation and technology.
Using automation doesn’t necessarily mean removing the human element from healthcare; it means removing the routine out of healthcare workers’ hands. For instance, drones are executing fast emergency care, removing the need for a driver to deliver life-saving items to doctors. Cast application can now be automated through 3D printing as opposed to manually by a practitioner. Implementation of automation coupled with artificial intelligence (AI) and remote sensors also has the potential to constantly monitor and seek out new models for improvement while still giving doctors the utmost control in care delivery. A new algorithm helps EMRs determine what treatment a stroke patient may require. Immediacy of treatment is incredibly important with stroke victims, and knowing which hospital can provide the optimal treatment will enhance an EMR teams’ care decisions.
Not only can doctors and their patients benefit from automation, there is tremendous opportunity for the entire healthcare industry to leverage the ongoing influx of data. Data can be used to improve healthcare—from curbing ER overuse to automated check-ins speeding up patient triage—all while collecting valuable patient data. Automation in data collection has the potential to enable AI software to identify and flag patterns and physiological interactions in ways that weren’t possible before, and which simply can’t be done by humans alone.
Improved long-term care management
Chronic diseases are the most common and costly of all health problems. Heart disease, cancer and stroke account for more than 50 percent of all deaths each year. Better management of these chronic illnesses has become a key focus for health policies around the globe, instigating a shift in healthcare spending toward diagnostics and preventative care. Success involves leveraging automation tools, data, and analytics to evaluate significant risk factors, involving patients in their own self-care and increasing adherence to treatment. Remote monitoring technologies can amass data that will identify patients in need of intervention and alert the physician when engagement is necessary. Once a trusted system of EHRs is implemented and data sharing among providers has coalesced, physicians will be able to move from a care structure that spends a large amount of resources on acute care to a structure that focuses on early detection, intervention, and preservation instead.
Automation technology has the capacity to treat a patient with a chronic illness consistently, improving the quality and predictability of their treatment plan. Not only can automation detect when patients deviate from their health regimen, it can attempt to reduce the physician’s human error, burnout, and fatigue as well. In fact, a 2009 study conducted by a Texas hospital examining the effects of integrating automation into the care infrastructure found that decision support in areas such as medical records and diagnoses led to a reduction in complications, deaths, and cost.
The digitally engaged patient
The shift towards a preventative care structure can bring another benefit for physicians: the digitally engaged patient. Patient engagement is a constant struggle within the healthcare sphere and has consistent reverberating effects as patient noncompliance and negligence has been estimated to consume half a trillion dollars in the US, including $300 billion in medication adherence, every year.
The concept that patients can engage in their own health management through digital media technologies will contribute significantly to the shift towards value-based care. Automation technology, as part of the patient engagement solution, is significant in its capacity to deliver data-driven insights to practitioners. Interactive platforms, such as specialized devices coupled with software, encourage patients to become knowledgeable collaborators who can take an active role in improving their own health. These platforms can give patients instant, 24-hour access to updates on their condition, medication instructions, health regimen planning, discharge instructions, and follow-up. These devices can simultaneously provide constant and consistent real-time data for physicians to analyze and use in patient diagnosis, medication adjustment, and digital or in-person follow-up. This means that physicians no longer need to be involved until follow-up is needed, or in case of emergency. Automation can improve and increase patient engagement, reduce readmission risks and medication nonadherence, and begin assisting patients in need of more resources.
Within hospitals or care facilities, automation assists in reducing the amount of manual processes involved in each stay. For instance, patients can “check in” at hospitals or care facilities like they do in hotels or airports, they can access self-service stations for blood tests, and receive mobile phone updates for simple medical tests. Patients on an overnight stay can customize their menu based on their condition through an electronic dietary system, even for something as simple as requesting a glass of water or for comfort adjustments to their room. By directing patient requests to the appropriate channels, the general efficiency of all clinical staff is improved because it frees the nurses and physicians to focus on a patient’s more urgent and complex medical needs.
Technology can further remove the burden of daily clinical tasks that occupy physicians’ time. Ordering tests and sifting through the data adds unnecessary costs and diverts physician time and focus from more clinically important activities. This impacts the ability to provide critical care to patients and can prevent some from receiving timely and appropriate care. Chronically ill patients are ready to adopt innovative technologies if they are easy to use, provide demonstrable results, and improve their relationships with their healthcare providers. According to the Deloitte Center for Health Studies, seven out of ten consumers were likely to use a healthcare technology presented to them. Consumers seem ready to adopt new technology and engage in self-monitoring, but physicians are cautious to embrace innovative technologies.
Automation will inevitably change the landscape of healthcare. It can simultaneously reduce costs and improve day-to-day healthcare efficiency. This will subsequently create more opportunities for care practitioners to specialize and elevate into higher-functioning roles, allowing them to act quickly and accurately by relying on data-based feedback. Ultimately, by providing physicians and nurses with more time through cost-savings and improved efficiency, automation can help save lives.