Chatbots and their automation can alleviate staff shortages, classify patients

Chatbots and their automation can alleviate staff shortages, classify patients

Automation plays an important role in transforming the healthcare experience. For example, many hospitals and healthcare systems use automation to ease the burden of staff shortages and effectively manage and assess patients on a large scale.

One type of automation is chatbots and related technology that can automate the triage and symptom-taking process, along with education and discharge materials on the surface.

For example, Northwell Health has implemented health chats with its patients. The health system has seen a 94 percent engagement rate among cancer patients, and 83 percent of physicians say health chats extend the care they can provide, said Conversa Health, the health system’s chatbot technology provider. Care navigators also commented on the greater peace of mind they had by being able to see patients responding through chats.

Health IT News sat down with Murray Brozinsky, CEO of Conversa Health, now part of telemedicine provider Amwell, to discuss how chatbots and automation technology can ease the burden of staff shortages; how tools can help with patient education and discharge; how technologies can be used to combat clinical burnout; and the potential importance of combining chatbots and similar technologies with virtual and in-person assistance.

Q. How can chatbots and automation technology alleviate the burden of staff shortages and potentially manage and evaluate patients on a large scale?

A. Even before the pandemic, a UCSF study predicted a global shortage of 2.5 million health workers by 2030. Now, as pressures on care delivery during the pandemic push one in five health workers to leave the profession and with primary care retirement rates set to increase dramatically by 2026, the future of care delivery, patient experience and healthcare outcomes will increasingly depend on automated support.

Healthcare organizations will reimagine care management, care transitions, and care coordination using data-driven technologies that help care teams treat patients proactively and help patients care for themselves proactively. more and more informed.

A good example is Northwell Health, a New York health system that uses automated chats to help their care teams stay in close contact with patients during their recovery after hospital discharge.

Patients interact with a digital companion who frequently monitors them on behalf of their care team. He asks questions about their health status and progression of care and can also acquire biometric readings from the devices.

Analyze these responses in real time and advise what the patient should do to improve the likelihood of recovery. If the carer determines that the patient needs more help, they guide them to the appropriate place of care by notifying the care team to call the patient, referring the patient for a telemedicine visit, or scheduling an in-person appointment.

Intelligent automation tools like this allow care teams to focus on the activities that deliver the most value to their patients. They optimize resources and system utilization.

They also support the delivery of more personalized care, which improves the experience for both patients and clinicians, while reducing costs. And that’s what patients and providers want: Research shows that more than half of patients (54%) and doctors (56%) expect smartphones to become their point of contact with their healthcare system.

Q. How can chatbots and automation technology help with patient education and discharge materials?

A. More than half of U.S. adults live with a chronic condition such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, or asthma, and one in four face multiple chronic conditions, federal data show.

Adherence to the education and care plan are extremely valuable levers in helping patients manage these conditions and live their best life. Healthcare systems and other care providers that use automation to frequently monitor their patients – by collecting and analyzing qualitative and quantitative patient data – identify when they are off track and provide relevant, personalized, evidence-based guidance at the right time and they have a huge opportunity to pull these levers.

These technologies also help healthcare systems develop deeper relationships with patients by increasing the number of empathic, helpful and trustworthy touchpoints they have with their patients, which strengthens loyalty and retention, a key aspect at a time in where competition for health care consumers is skyrocketing from traditional and non-traditional providers.

Automated patient engagement enables healthcare organizations to leverage patient wisdom to improve the best clinical, operational and financial outcomes. They provide health systems with a powerful mechanism to engage in ongoing discussions with their patients – on a large scale – and as often as necessary to avoid unnecessary health complications.

With this information in hand, care team members can intervene earlier and help patients avoid adverse events and unnecessary hospital readmissions. They can also provide the coaching needed to prevent low-risk patients from becoming either increasing risk or high-risk.

The potential for automated engagement tools to achieve better outcomes after a hospital stay is remarkable. Nearly 20% of patients experience an adverse event within three weeks of hospital discharge. In three out of four cases, these complications could have been prevented or improved.

Care teams can work collaboratively with automated virtual care technology to continually assess patient status before and after hospital discharge and provide relevant education, thrust and guidance to keep them on track. And if and when they go astray or require necessary readmission, technology can signal them early for appropriate intervention.

Q. How can chatbots and automation technology be used to combat physician burnout?

A. Pressures from COVID-19 have pushed clinical burnout to new levels: one in five doctors and two in five nurses say they will leave their profession within two years as a result of this, according to a study by the American Medical Association.

Doctors are estimated to spend up to 49% of their day at office work. Confirming this, a Medscape survey found that 59% of physicians cite paperwork, such as electronic medical record documentation and paperwork, as the main contributing factors to burnout.

Chatbots and data-driven technologies can ease the burden of doctors, nurses, and other frontline healthcare professionals by automating the tasks best suited to a computer and freeing up care teams to practice their licenses to the fullest.

Automated tools and chatbots act as a 24/7 extension of the support team. They can reduce the patient’s stress and anxiety by making them feel less isolated and by providing education and answers to questions. They help ensure that the necessary tests are not only ordered, but that patients complete them.

They guide patients to take the best next step for them on their care journey, whether it’s taking medications, making appointments, or undergoing necessary screenings. They help patients stay on top of their health and better position doctors to stay on top of their workloads.

The data these technologies collect – patient-generated health data – are a mother of intelligence for care teams and health systems alike. In a pilot project we conducted, 82% of doctors said they would recommend using health chat technology to a colleague. And 83% reported that health chat technology has extended patient care.

Teaching hospitals in northeastern Ohio are using an automated tool for COVID-19 screening and triage, which has enabled the healthcare system to respond quickly to patients with COVID-like symptoms and protect their employees. UH’s “Employee HealthChecks” tool remotely checks 29,000 employees every day for symptoms of COVID-19, reducing the pressure on overexposed doctors and staff.

Q. Can you elaborate on the importance of combining chatbots and similar technologies with virtual and in-person assistance and turn it into a seamless experience?

A. Patients want – and deserve – access to affordable, high-quality care when and where they need it. Health systems and other providers must meet patients where they are, who are increasingly in their homes, with consumer-worthy experiences, while reducing the variability of care and improving health outcomes. And they must achieve this with severe shortages of health workers and pressure to cut costs.

To that end, we believe that care delivery will increasingly mix physical, virtual, and automated interactions. The key is to combine the right amount of physical, virtual and automation to maximize patient experiences and health outcomes while optimizing resource utilization.

This inexorably leads to data-driven platforms designed to help healthcare organizations orchestrate care for each patient along every stage of their healthcare journey.

A critically important dataset in this equation is patient-generated health data – the vital data patients carry with them about their health and care status that doesn’t exist anywhere else. This includes patient-reported outcomes, biometric data, social determinants, behavioral data, and other data that change over time.

If you could afford to have someone sit in a patient’s home every day and ask them questions and take vital signs, you could use this information to inform the care they need. Since no healthcare system can afford it, nor would a patient want it, automated systems using chatbots will become the faithful companions of the patients of the future.

They’ll do the heavy lifting, collecting vital patient-generated health data, combining it with other patient data, analyzing it, and recommending the best actions to help orchestrate the right combination of care for each patient.

We will know that we have managed to make this experience seamless when instead of referring to a mixture of physical, virtual and automated experiences or hybrid care, we simply call it health care.

Twitter: @SiwickiHealthIT
Email the writer: bsiwicki@himss.org
Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS Media publication.

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