One doesn’t need to be a doctor, economist, or academic to recognize that healthcare is fundamentally broken in the U.S. Waiting in a clinic for a 20-minute discussion with a doctor who is running late (without knowing what the visit will cost) has become customary.
It’s also common to be discharged from a hospital feeling exhausted and stressed, due to a ballooning healthcare bill (yet patients are often rushed out the door), with unclear discharge instructions – all of which undermine recuperation and increase the likelihood of readmission.
Is it still possible to have a good healthcare experience today? Maybe. If one lives in the right place (and knows which hospitals to avoid), has the proper insurance (and pays more for concierge access) and can manage their care (in all their free time). Understanding if the right medications are being received, how to manage follow-ups and tracking recovery is a big (but likely necessary) undertaking.
While a long, likely depressing article could be written on how society got here (e.g., employer-backed insurance, political calculus, a pill-popping orientation to fix what ails us, etc.), many of our issues in healthcare have been solved, or at least are being solved in other industries. Still, the healthcare community needs to allow the innovation in, be more open to change and break some proverbial eggs.
Automation is probably the fastest route to scaling healthcare. Software is allowed to fly passenger-heavy planes, self-driving cars are rising in popularity and one no longer has to stand in the middle of a street to hail a taxi. All of this automation allows us to concentrate on more important things. In healthcare, automation would allow providers to work at the top of their licenses, focusing on actual care versus cumbersome and restraining manual entry duties.
Let’s start basic: automating vitals
Suppose a person looks back in time over the past 100+ years. In that case, intelligent, well-educated healthcare professionals have been paid to walk room to room every couple of hours, collecting four sets of patients’ vitals daily (often waking up the recuperating patient in the process). Undoubtedly, this time could be better spent.
By streamlining operations and automating existing workflows, not only is there a reduced need for manual entry, but more accurate data will be acquired. As predictive analytics continue to advance, there may be a future in which care delivery is prioritized and providers are not spending time identifying risk. Having real-time visibility and access to a patient’s entire chart in just one click – with derived clinical insights upfront, versus the medical-legal pseudo-alerts that one must click through today – means care teams will know when and how to intervene.
Accessing more patients more efficiently and effectively is not the only benefit of automation – it will make the practice of medicine healthier. According to Medscape’s Physician Burnout and Depression Report, physician burnout is worsening, with 53% of doctors indicating they are burnt out (an uptick from the 42% level before COVID) and 23% of doctors shared they struggle with depression.
Unfortunately, similar data on burnout exist for nurses and other care providers. Automation can make a real difference: Advanced tech can better inform decision-making when people are providing care (making the right decision more straightforward and easier) and can optimize provider workflows (replacing rote, low-value actions with top-of-license care). Providers were trained to save lives, not to fill out often redundant forms and search endlessly, fruitlessly in the sea of EMR data.
How do we get there faster?
To be successful, providers must work alongside industry stakeholders to incentivize health technology adoption across the care continuum and foster an open, innovative care collaboration network.
A pulse needs to be kept on the needs of today’s clinicians and medical staff.
Factors that can accelerate this process are government incentives, preventing information blocking, and focusing less on reimbursement and more on quality. There needs to be an understanding of how patients are moving through the healthcare system today and how they should move through it tomorrow as automation and AI accelerate.
The right attitude, the wrong tools
Ultimately, it’s not a matter of if healthcare can catch up to other industries. It can. However, the change needs to be accelerated through shared investments and focused innovations. It’s a mistake not to capitalize on the healthcare technology already available and develop more and faster.
These innovations aren’t groundbreaking. They won’t cure cancer, accelerate vaccine discovery or produce sustainable weight loss, but they could free up time so clinicians can do those things instead of patient scheduling, completing paperwork, capturing and documenting vitals, billing – all the administrative tasks that fill a provider’s day on top of patient care.
About the Author
Ben Zaniello, MD, MPH, is the chief medical officer at PointClickCare, and a practicing infectious disease physician. Zaniello is a technologist at heart, focused on healthcare innovation for population health and the transition to value-based care for all patients. Ben worked at Providence St. Joseph Health as chief medical information officer in population health. Before that, Zaniello did NIH-funded translational research in population health at the University of Washington while consulting in healthcare technology.