During the early stages of the pandemic, many health providers and patients saw the flaws with healthcare customer service. Patients engaged in rounds of “phone tag” with their doctors, or they accepted a three or four day wait time to hear back from MyChart messages. Smaller providers with paper records struggled to provide access to information for patients who understandably did not want to visit an office during a health crisis.
Chat, email, and phone channels exploded with patients who wanted to learn more about the new virus. The pandemic accelerated digital change and connectivity, leaving many in healthcare unprepared. They had to implement new technology at scale, including videoconferencing, EHR access and other improvements, all while managing HIPAA compliance. As the pandemic continues into the fall of 2021 and beyond, healthcare providers need to evolve their digital offerings.
They need new technology that isn’t a short-term fix but sets the industry up for a more connected future of more satisfied and healthier patients.
Leveraging Technology for Integrated Healthcare
Many physicians and staff call patients using their mobile phones but would block the caller ID for privacy reasons. However, the patient can’t call the healthcare provider back on this line. It doesn’t enable easy back and forth for setting an appointment or double checking a course of care. This dynamic means a less open patient and provider relationship that lacks a personal touch. With a better relationship, patients often see improved engagement with their provider, leading to improved outcomes, fewer mistakes, or misinterpretations, and less legal exposure for the provider.
Technology is changing every aspect of our lives, including how we manage our health. Healthcare is an $8 trillion industry that has always used technology to advance diagnostic tools, preventive treatment, and quality of care – all with the aim of improving and saving lives.
However, it’s also been criticized for a slow and unsteady embrace of new technology. A pre-pandemic survey noted that only 32 percent of U.S. physicians and 27 percent of U.S. consumers rated their healthcare system as performing well in terms of introducing new digital technologies.
COVID-19 has undoubtedly accelerated the healthcare industry’s adoption and usage of new technologies, and consumers are taking note. Like other sectors, the industry has undergone years of change and challenges in a matter of months, and I predict these changes are here to stay even after the pandemic subsides. Individuals will continue to embrace technology to proactively manage their health, while health institutions will look for new ways to increase quality and improve patient outcomes using advanced technology.
Here are four examples of proven technological innovations that will fundamentally change how healthcare organizations operate and provide care going forward:
For the first time in our lives, we have been able to see how artificial intelligence would influence a pandemic from identification and tracking to treatment and vaccination. Two things had to perfectly align to make this happen.
Technology had to advance to a place where it could analyze, predict, and engage with extreme accuracy and a virus had to be dangerous enough to spur massive funding and demand for action. We reached that tipping point in 2020. As the year comes to a close it is time to consider all that AI has done and where it is likely to continue to impact epidemiology and disaster response moving forward.
HealthMap, an AI application run by Boston Children’s Hospital, was launched in 2006 and was one of the first tools used to detect and track the COVID-19 outbreak in China. The algorithm uses online data about infectious disease events from news outlets and social media in more than a dozen languages. It then applied machine learning and natural language processing (NLP) to track outbreaks.
Tracking or predicting where cases might show up is just one step in a long journey to stopping the spread of the virus. An article published in May 2020 by researchers in the U.S. and China would reveal that Artificial Intelligence was accurately diagnosing COVID-19 in 68% of patients who had previously been thought to be negative and had normal results on chest imaging. The AI algorithm used to compare imaging, symptoms, medical history, and exposure was said to have “equal sensitivity as compared to a senior thoracic radiologist.” I have also had the pleasure of reading some yet-to-be-published articles about how AI is helping in the ICU to predictively determine ventilator utilization but it’s not just ventilators.
When it came time to harness AI in the diagnosis of COVID-19, even the CDC jumped on board. In partnership with Microsoft’s Azure platform, they embedded a symptom checker chatbot on their website. Likely out of an abundance of caution, their bot uses what I term “light-AI” to guide patients through a very basic decision tree. Answering simple yes-no questions to determine their likelihood of needing a test.
As long as we continue to prioritize data, AI will have the information needed to analyze and predict, it’s a very logical application of the technology — but what about using it to engage patients and address widespread misinformation and fear?
Technology and the Internet of Things (IoT) are having a big impact on health care and health insurance, with research by Bain predicting that the revenue obtained from IoT and analytics alone will reach 22 billion by 2025.
In the health insurance sector, technologies such as artificial intelligence are enabling companies to sift through millions of pieces of data to find ways to reduce premiums, match products with their ideal target market, and generate new business leads. How can technology empower health insurance brands to deliver better service and build a larger client base?
Current leaders in the health insurance industry often ask beneficiaries to use wearable devices that track activity and calorie intake. Doing so enables them to collect vital information that can be used to offer reward programs. Various insurance providers are offering discounted rates on health insurance, and life insurance for diabetics. Discounts may seem small at first, but over the lifetime of a policy, consumers can save thousands of dollars.
It also encourages wearers to take vital steps to prevent obesity, Type 2 diabetes, stress, and other diseases and conditions linked to an inactive lifestyle or to a poor diet comprising high percentages of sugar and refined ingredients.
By Dan Schulte, MBA, CHFP, senior vice president, provider operations, HGS.
As outbreaks of COVID-19 continue to crop up around the country, the ongoing public health crisis is just one facet of the situation; economic disruption is another grim reality, including for the healthcare industry itself. The American Hospital Association estimates COVID-19 will result in losses of $202.6 billion for the country’s hospitals and health systems due to factors such as the cancellation of nonemergency procedures; the high cost of treating a patient with COVID-19; and the millions of Americans who could become suddenly uninsured due to the economic implications of the virus.
Providers must improve cash flow to remain stable, which will require new revenue cycle management strategies supported by technology. Artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and robotic process automation (RPA) together can provide an effective automation strategy that will help healthcare systems recover and retain more of their revenue — while boosting patient satisfaction — as they navigate this costly crisis.
Nine revenue cycle functions ripe for automation include:
Prior authorizations: With manual prior authorizations requiring an average of 21 minutes and as much as 45 minutes per transaction, the opportunity to drive cost savings through automation is significant. Because of well-defined business rules in this area and structured data that systems exchange in conducting prior authorizations, RPA can significantly improve this process: Implementing a “bot” that can perform the same tasks repetitively and without variation can help reduce error rates, so patients can get the authorization they need quickly, and lower the likelihood of claim denials.
Eligibility and benefit verification: While fully electronic transactions account for more than 84% of all eligibility and benefit verification transactions — a positive development — more can be done to reduce wasteful spending in this part of the revenue cycle. As the starting point for care delivery, this function represents a significant potential for improvement via intelligent automation. The focused manager will ensure that the EDI tools bring the right data across to the patient accounting system (timely, accurate and complete data), and will have the necessary add-ons to find the last 15% of data from screen scraping and outsourcing to a reliable service provider.
According to a recent IBM Institute for Business Value survey of more than 5,000 U.S. adults, just over 36% of respondents have already taken advantage of telemedicine services to seek remote care for less urgent health issues since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Of those surveyed, 59% plan to keep using these services into the future, despite the fact that only one-fifth of those surveyed sought virtual care before.
As patients and their providers increasingly recognize the value of engaging virtually, and as we transition into our ‘new normal’, healthcare organizations will need to expand their virtual capabilities to keep up with increased demand for telemedicine while ensuring personalized, seamless delivery of high-quality care. But how?
Increased adoption fuels greater acceleration
Virtual health services and capabilities have been available for quite some time. But in light of a strained and reconfigured healthcare system due to COVID-19 – and with many patients self-isolating – the rate of adoption and use has increased. In years to come, this adoption is likely to gain momentum as demand continues to grow.
Routine face-to-face medical care is now limited for most Americans due to the pandemic, prompting many to take advantage of remote services to access the care they need. And as many parts of the country plan ahead for a world with less in-person interaction, more consumers may choose to forego the process of scheduling an in-person appointment with their provider if they know that it’s possible to receive the same high-quality care through virtual visits.
More than half of those surveyed in IBM’s latest poll indicate they have had a positive experience using telehealthcare services, such as telemedicine, telenursing and telepharmacy, either before or during the current crisis – and that positive experience must be upheld.
To maintain and build on the increased traction of virtual care, providers need to work to ensure that these platforms and services are easy to use for those who are not technologically savvy. It is also critical that they support these services with robust and secure infrastructure so their digital offerings are available and reliable at all times – to the benefit of both patients and doctors.
The golden years are becoming that much easier with each passing year thanks to quality of life improvements made possible through technological breakthroughs. Tech is empowering seniors to age in place much longer than anticipated. Furthermore, tech innovation is enhancing medical equipment and medications, ultimately improving seniors’ quality of life.
Data Analysis for Improved Care
Machine learning and artificial intelligence is significantly enhancing healthcare for seniors across the United States as well as the rest of the world. Tech is now capable of analyzing information in an incredibly efficient manner. Between health monitoring systems, smart watches for seniors and in-depth data analysis, there are all sorts of new and creative ways to monitor senior health.
Predictive analytics will likely prove quite important in the future for regular doctors, dentist for sale practices and others, ultimately empowering healthcare workers to predict seniors’ health challenges. It is quite possible predictive analytics will soon accurately predict a patient’s likelihood for a potentially devastating fall, a heart attack, stroke or other medical problem. The prudent use of such predictive analytics will make it easier for seniors to obtain the care they need for high-quality living throughout the entirety of the golden years.
From a senior care perspective, we are starting to see many senior living communities shift their focus towards putting technology first. In fact, the shift over the last three years is exponentially more than all the progress from the last ten years combined.
As we continue to see an increase in the implementation of technology, we’ll also see residents’ quality of life improve because we are enabling them to age in place longer and remain in their preferred care setting.
In actuality, technological advancements and innovation are more likely to come to the senior living industry over any other care setting. Since these types of facilities are largely privately funded, senior living facilities are more likely to adopt these new innovations over those organizations that are funded by the government.
Overall, technology is starting to be more widely implemented to improve senior care by managing resident data more efficiently, all with a primary focus of helping our seniors to maintain the independence, health, and general wellness.
We have officially entered into a New Normal and technology overall will continue to play a larger role within the senior living space. Mobile technology will be even more critical and engaging family in care through the use of family engagement solutions will become foundational.
Leveraging an EHR as an underlying platform to improve overall care quality allows care providers to truly see resident needs and find creative ways to address them.
By taking a comprehensive approach to an EHR, providers in the senior living space can gain insight into the community’s key operating metrics, then adapt and adjust accordingly by regularly tracking clinical outcomes, staffing, and quality indicators.
From a data perspective, more and more senior living communities are recognizing the importance of interoperability. Data being collected shouldn’t just tell us where we are at, it should tell us where we are going by helping us predict potential issues before they happen.