Could Amazon’s personal assistant, Alexa, predict when you will be sick? Or, if Siri is the first to know you have COVID-19. It’s not as far-fetched as it sounds. Artificial intelligence (AI) is already transforming healthcare in a number of ways and by combining today’s technology with available data from a range of sources (e.g., electronic health records (EHR), personal buying habits, etc.), we can achieve even more important breakthroughs.
There is limitless potential in the way AI and machine learning (ML) can better equip healthcare professionals for their jobs. Instead of replacing our doctors and nurses, the technology works alongside their skills and expertise to elevate their patient care overall. This pairing of human and machine can create an efficient workplace for clinicians to deliver even more quality care to patients at scale.
The expanded use of AI and ML in healthcare hinges on several factors, including data ownership concerns and the ethical implications of providing healthcare data to technology companies like Google and Amazon. But with the right approach, it’s possible to leverage AI and ML to achieve better medical outcomes.
We don’t know how to effectively use AI yet
We’re familiar with the potential applications of AI in healthcare. For example, we know that in many cases, AI is better equipped to detect skin cancer than a human doctor. In addition to improving diagnoses, AI also holds promise in the development of customized treatment plans and giving patients greater control over their conditions. When AI and clinicians work together — such as when Harvard combined analysis from human pathologists with AI to identify breast cancer cells — it can produce even more effective results.
While the potential uses for ML and AI in the healthcare space are vast, these technologies are only as effective as the data that is available to them. If we could access all of the patient’s available data, — from their electronic health record, to their data stored by Google, Amazon and other technology providers — we would have a more comprehensive view of the patient’s health and significantly improve their experience using today’s technology.
As a physician, one of the most rewarding parts of my job is building relationships with my patients. In developing this connection, I’m able to better understand their healthcare challenges and frustrations, which enables me to ultimately help them achieve their health goals.
But establishing strong patient engagement is getting harder, in part due to the ever-changing regulations and daily demands we as physicians must manage.
Consider this: During a 20-minute appointment, physicians spend only about 12 minutes interacting with the patient and 8 minutes documenting their visit on the electronic health record (EHR). Once the patient leaves, we spend another 11 minutes completing documentation in an effort to keep up with payer demands and comply with other requirements.
While healthcare tech – in the forms of EHRs, patient portals, secure messaging or mobile apps – are proven to help foster stronger connections between physicians and patients, it’s the personal touch, the solid relationship between the patient and the provider, that’s most important.
Building a Trusted Relationship: The Patient <> Provider Connection
Despite best intentions, many healthcare practices fail to provide solid patient experiences. Considering today’s healthcare environment where individuals now foot more of their healthcare bill than ever before, patients are seeking greater value and convenience for their money.
According to a recent study, nearly half of all healthcare consumers are frustrated with their healthcare experiences. Why? Because there is a gap in perception between providers and consumers on the quality of experience currently being provided.
To overcome this disconnect, let’s go back to the basics. As a child, you’re taught that it’s proper etiquette to shake someone’s hand and look them in the eyes when speaking with them. This is true for physicians as well.
The first step in building better relationships with patients is to make eye contact with them. In fact, a recent JAMA study found that patients equate engagement with eye contact from the provider. As simple as this seems, many physicians (myself included) sometimes struggle with this due to the fact that we are heads down in our technology systems.
However, eye contact is a powerful form of nonverbal communication and shows our patients that we are giving them our undivided attention. Trust me – patients notice whether or not their doctors make eye contact. If we are constantly looking at our computer or tablet during an office visit, the patient automatically feels the disconnect and will rate their overall healthcare experience much lower.
Overcoming the Pitfalls of Technology to Improve the Patient Experience
While the human element in healthcare is of paramount importance, there is still a role for patient engagement technology, which can enhance and strengthen our personal relationships with patients. However, practices must make sure these tools are integrated and operate seamlessly. While patient engagement technologies look great on paper, when put into practice, they often require patients to use different apps or access a variety of unconnected systems.
Portals are one of the most common technologies that can be used to engage patients, however research shows that more than 56% of patients have said they’ve never been encouraged to use an online medical record by practice staff, and 47% of patients offered access to a portal have never viewed their health info. In addition to making patients aware that these technologies exist, it’s also crucial to discuss the benefits of patient portals, such as simplified processes for refilling prescriptions, scheduling appointments, reviewing health information and more.
Fostering a Successful Technology-Enabled Patient Engagement Strategy
While it’s true that it takes both people and software to truly engage patients, applications of patient engagement technology can be successful when enabled by a compassionate and sincere strategy. Some key considerations when implementing these technologies include: