Providers and care teams are continuously seeking ways to improve the care they provide to patients. The latest developments in healthcare automation are an essential element of this approach. Automating portions of clinical care protocols helps generate operational efficiencies, increase patient engagement, and scale organizational growth.
In some industries, automation is believed to save workers up to 50% of their time spent on administrative tasks. Translated to healthcare, that time savings can offer significant benefits in delivering high-quality, patient-centered care while streamlining repetitive tasks and processes.
Finding more time and resources in healthcare is more important today than ever. As more people seek healthcare services in the U.S., care teams are challenged to meet these demands. The prevalence of chronic disease is spreading and the U.S. population is aging. Identifying ways to streamline some healthcare processes is key to ensuring enough resources are available for patients.
What is considered automation in healthcare?
Automation is the use of software and technology to complete tasks with minimal human input. It often replaces tasks handled by physicians, care team members, and staff with automated processes.
For example, clinician staff were once responsible for calling patients to give appointment reminders. Now, software enables clinics to automatically text, call, or email patients. Healthcare automation is also leading to faster diagnoses, improved clinical processes, and more detailed profiles of the risks and benefits of treatments for specific populations.
Some common examples of processes that are being replaced with automation in healthcare include:
- Patient check-in/check-out processes
- Appointment reminders
- Prescription refills
- Medical record transfers
- Follow-up appointment scheduling
- Patient surveys & questionnaires
- Patient-provider communication
- Provider-provider communication
- Chronic disease management
- Educational information distribution
- Intake & consent processes
- Escalation or triage processes
- Task creation
How to know it’s time to start automating processes
Providers who want to deliver high-quality care and boost patient engagement should already be experimenting with automation. It can give time back to staff, improve patient wait times, and bolster the patient experience. Conversely, when clinical and administrative processes grow too time-consuming, they can contribute to patient dissatisfaction. Frustrated patients and complex processes can wear on care teams and become overwhelming. Automated processes remove time-consuming tasks and allow care team members to focus on the elements of patient care that require a human touch.
Not sure where to begin? Start with the most time-consuming processes. By mapping out an approach and introducing elements of automation, the burden on care teams can be relieved. One area that provides an immediate benefit to facilities is appointment standardization. Many offices avoid outlining various appointment types and components because of the time investment needed to set up the process. Automating appointment types and implementing a standardized approach may require some initial effort up front, but can support administrative staff and reduce time spent scheduling moving forward.
Benefits of healthcare automation for patient care
While healthcare automation supports care and administrative teams and can make clinical and administrative processes more efficient, the benefits for patient care are even more compelling.
Streamlined care and shorter wait times
Healthcare automation and care management programs make it easier for care teams to update patient records immediately and speed up data collection. Automating forms allows care teams to quickly and efficiently collect patient health data, including clinical assessments, monthly progress check-ins, questionnaires, and even patient feedback forms. By automating these forms, care teams can create and send forms to patients on a specific and automated cadence, build further automations based on certain answers, or map questions to create data visualizations based on received answers.
Automation in healthcare also allows diagnostic data to be shared across providers much more quickly than sending hard copies by mail or fax. If a patient is waiting for information from a scan from a hospital, the scan can be sent to their physician the moment the scans are ready — all without human input. The physician can then make a quicker decision on the best treatment option.
In this example, the automation process allows a patient to go home after a scan, rest comfortably, and connect with their physician when information is available. This approach is much more patient-centered than having the patient sit in one or more waiting rooms and travel from office to office with their test results. The less time patients need to spend in a waiting room, the more time they can spend at home recovering. This significantly improves patient satisfaction and the patient experience.
Patient records that update in real-time allow providers and care team members to get a comprehensive view of a patient, their diagnosis, and any potential risks. In some cases, every minute counts. Rapid access to key patient and clinical data allows care teams to move forward with fast, accurate diagnoses and treatment plans, avoiding further complications.
Healthcare automation also enables clinicians to focus on the work that requires their expertise. It means they spend less time on administrative or process tasks that are time-consuming and inefficient, freeing them up to make timely treatment decisions, engage with patients and families, and streamline the care they provide.
Detect and diagnoses issues faster
Advancements in medical technology and software allow clinical teams to detect and diagnose health complications earlier. This is often made possible through remote patient monitoring (RPM), the use of technology to measure health indicators and flag potential issues. RPM technology can be automated to report any change in a patient’s vital signs to their care team immediately. Wearable technology such as remote cardiac monitoring units allow clinicians to conduct diagnostic tests without inconveniencing the patient. When wearable devices are paired with RPM, patients can complete these diagnostic tests in the comfort of their own home. The data is automatically logged and shared with physicians when certain factors or conditions are detected.
For patients living with chronic illnesses, a sudden change can signal impending complications and even become a life or death situation. Knowing that a provider or care team member is immediately contacted to intervene can be a relief for patients living with these conditions. With healthcare automation, patients and their families can more effectively manage their care, engage with their provider, and prevent potentially serious health events. Through automation, you can define events that warrant an external notification to specific members of the care team and create escalation paths when adverse events happen. The automated alerts can be sent via email, chat, or SMS when the defined occurrence is triggered.
Healthcare automation can go a step further and incorporate artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning processes. AI and machine learning can process vast amounts of data, identify patterns, and refine clinical diagnostic processes, even enabling predictive analytics for certain conditions. This allows care teams to identify potential diseases before any serious symptoms begin, giving patients a better opportunity to avoid complex conditions and invasive care. For example, Stanford University has tested a machine learning algorithm that can identify skin cancers at a much earlier stage than most dermatologists. Their approach has been proven to be as effective at identifying deadly skin lesions as 21 board-certified dermatologists.
Healthcare automations are allowing for better diagnosis and monitoring while giving patients the flexibility to remain where they’re most comfortable. These technologies also allow clinicians to spread their time across their patients, allowing nearly constant monitoring and data collection, and only requiring the clinician’s attention when needed.
Build stronger patient relationships
Healthcare automation can create strategic workflows and processes which essentially buy back time for providers. Automation of certain tasks, like communication touch-points, patient surveys and appointment reminders, provide a consistent line of communication that strengthens the patient-provider relationship. While these processes serve to meet patient needs and increase patient satisfaction, they also play a significant role in increasing compliance and reducing the number of missed appointments for provider offices.
These advances in healthcare are enabling more efficient care and better outcomes. Clinicians are able to spend more time with their patients to identify patient preferences and build stronger relationships. When clinicians can build a strong rapport with their patients, there is a measurable impact on patient happiness and satisfaction. Patients are more likely to follow a care plan developed by a provider or care team they trust.
For providers and care teams, getting to know patients on a personal level is ultimately much more rewarding than spending a few minutes discussing results and leaving the room. Providers who know and understand their patients also have the opportunity to learn more about their support system and social needs, which are becoming increasingly important as care models shift into the patient’s home. Building a strong relationship with patients allows providers to keep an open line of communication and provide support.
Direct and personal communication between patients and providers promotes plan adherence, retention, and ultimately, better health outcomes. Welkin’s multi-channel communication toolkit includes synchronous, HIPAA-compliant video conferencing, asynchronous secure email, web-based or patient-facing chat, SMS, and MMS.
Lower cost of services
As healthcare continues to focus on a preventive, patient-centered model of care, healthcare automation supports this push by allowing earlier and more accurate diagnoses. This not only benefits patients by avoiding costly procedures, but it also benefits healthcare facilities in nearly every cost metric.
RPM devices with automated alerts also help patients avoid potentially serious complications, which is ideal in many respects: patients have better outcomes and experiences, providers spend time monitoring and treating conditions rather than solving for an adverse event, and costs to the healthcare system are greatly reduced. The move to coordinated models, enhanced care management, and value-based care all support the adoption of key healthcare automation approaches to improve patient and provider experiences.
Automation helps care for patients
Automation in healthcare improves the healthcare delivery system, reduces costs, and improves patient outcomes. These goals align strongly with the direction of patient-centered care and value-based care.
As technology continues to advance and expand what’s possible in healthcare automation, providers and patients stand to see even more benefits. Interested in learning more about how the right technology can improve patient-centered care? Check out our definitive guide on patient-centered care.