The rise in technological capabilities offers an opportunity to enhance healthcare efficiency, boosting patient satisfaction and outcomes, streamlining access to care and services and lowering costs. From remote monitoring to apps and chatbots, digital tech can prove a beneficial investment for clinicians and patients alike.
What Issues Traditionally Impact Healthcare Efficiency?
Given the complexity of the healthcare landscape, efficiency has long been a struggle. For example, the traditional one-on-one patient-provider relationship has primarily shifted to a system where patients have multiple healthcare providers, each specializing in a particular disease or body system. Insurance restrictions, like network contracting, complicate the ease with which patients can find local providers, particularly specialists. Plus, the rise in managed care requires patients and providers to work within strict confines and often juggle multiple points of contact, including nurse case and pharmacy benefit managers.
These complicated regulations may delay care and limit the likelihood of optimal outcomes as patients experience long wait times for authorization of services and medication. Communication issues are also common, especially as patients grow frustrated and opt to disengage. As a result, patients may not be tracked as closely, hindering the collection of critical diagnostic information and the pacing of early interventions.
Social determinants of health, such as economic stability and geographic location, frequently affect healthcare efficiency. Costs associated with maintaining insurance or seeking medical care — premiums, deductibles, copays, time away from work and travel expenses — are sometimes prohibitive for patients, leading to the exacerbation of easily controlled or curable health conditions and hampering routine preventive measures. Patients who live farther away from healthcare services may have worse outcomes, which is likely magnified by the primary care shortage in rural areas. This not only impacts equitable and efficient access to services but contributes to physician burnout as well.
What Tools Can Improve Healthcare Efficiency?
While these issues seem insurmountable, digital technology can bridge many of the existing gaps, allowing clinicians to expedite care to a greater number of patients, optimize outcomes and reduce provider burden. These tools may include:
Speech and emotion recognition software. For decades, dictation and transcription has been the prominent means of healthcare documentation, but it is prone to errors. According to a 2018 JAMA Network Open study, dictation alone results in 7.4 errors per 100 words. Advanced speech recognition tools, whether embedded in the electronic health record (EHR) or as a standalone option, can improve overall accuracy while reducing rework and medical errors. Emotional recognition software, which identifies facial cues and emotional states, may be an excellent supplemental tool, as it provides insights into patient behavior and predicts physician burnout.
Remote monitoring. With remote monitoring, patients' vitals are collected via a device used in the home and automatically transmitted to a dedicated nurse or clinician for review. This shrinks the cost of care and allows for closer day-to-day management of chronic conditions, such as diabetes and congestive heart failure, without the need to travel. Clinicians are also able to supervise the well-being of more patients.
Apps and chatbots. The ubiquity of smartphones and the internet creates opportunities for clinicians to extend their reach and the quality of patient care, all at lower costs and greater convenience. Apps and chatbots accommodate online appointment scheduling, assist with triaging care, and support information exchange and prudent decision-making. Automated text and email reminders diminish the administrative load and keep patients engaged.
Although digital technology will not solve every modern healthcare issue, it can minimize many of the shortfalls of the current system. The adoption of digital solutions, both by patients and clinicians, will be instrumental in simplifying administrative tasks, expanding access, advancing outcomes and reducing costs.
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