We are rationing health care. The reason isn’t a shortage of beds, medications, ventilators, or surgical suites. This is a shortage of health personnel.
As with other parts of the American economy, healthcare has pushed its workforce to the limit. Doctors, nurses, administrators, respiratory therapists and others have been in emergency mode for much of the past two years. Unpredictable waves of Covid-19 still threaten to increase the workload and work on the sidelines. No wonder there is tremendous burnout. People are laying off, causing severe workforce shortages and compromising medical care.
The solution is automation. For decades this has been a dirty word, seen as an existential threat to American workers. Covid-19 and burnout, however, are making him a savior. The labor shortage in the healthcare sector has put a strain on the sector. Largely due to employee burnout, the healthcare workforce shrank by 424,000 between February 2020 and March 2022, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Healthcare executives complain that hiring and retaining employees is more difficult than ever. With 9% of jobs in the healthcare sector vacant, the sector must find ways to lighten the burden.
The concept behind automation is simple: Find high-volume, highly repetitive, highly manual workflows and replace technology and machines. The technology behind the automation is quite sophisticated. A wave of digital healthcare companies are implementing robotic processes, machine learning, natural language processing and other approaches to improve the way healthcare is delivered. Advances in artificial intelligence, access to untapped data, and the availability of cloud-based infrastructure have expanded what is achievable.
Although the healthcare industry is often slow to adopt new technologies, it is starting to see the results of automation. Viz.ai is a digital healthcare company that uses automation to reduce the time it takes to get patients’ brain rescue surgeries. Instead of hours of image processing, radiological reviews and specialist consultations, Viz applies artificial intelligence to detect, measure and predict the extent of the disease. The platform then activates the intervention in a few minutes. The automation of this care pathway reduces treatment times: saving human lives, brain tissue and shortening hospital stays from three to five days.
There are countless other cases for automation. Automating the collection of statistics for quality assessments, transmitting basic information to patients, monitoring drug adherence, and performing repetitive administrative functions allows doctors and nurses to free up time to improve care to patients.
Syllable is a startup that uses artificial intelligence to help patients schedule appointments and fill prescriptions. In one month, Weill Cornell Hospital in New York automated approximately 10,000 calls, saving the equivalent of 375 working days.
As Sean Lane, CEO of the Olive automation platform says, “We stopped treating doctors, nurses, patients and others like humans. Instead, because the systems don’t talk to each other, we treat them like typewriters and routers, filling out the same forms over and over again on different screens and systems. “Administrative inefficiencies are a huge drag on the industry and a driving cause of burnout.
There is a lot within healthcare that shouldn’t be automated: bedside care, life-saving surgery, compassionate conversations about diagnosis and treatment options. But these tasks are not what is causing burnout and labor shortages. Boring tasks that healthcare professionals despise can be automated.
The healthcare sector must recognize that automation does not imply job cuts in the name of corporate greed. Instead, it offers a way to improve care delivery, with daily work made more manageable for the 12 million health care workers. Decision makers need to consider every option to address labor shortages while improving outcomes for patients. Automation is a readily available and effective technology approach to help ensure that Americans can receive high-quality care.
Dr. Emanuel is a physician, vice president for global initiatives at the University of Pennsylvania and a venture capital partner at Oak HC / FT, a venture capital and growth firm, which has investments in Olive and Syllable. Mr. Deitch is a partner of Oak HC / FT.
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