Can Care Automation Heal a Wounded Healthcare System?

Guest Authored by Ray Costantini, CEO & Co-founder,

Access to high-quality healthcare has been an issue for a lot of patients for a long time. COVID-19 hasn’t changed that as much as it’s shined a light on the most extreme examples. While some patients have connected with healthcare professionals via telehealth over the past several months, nearly 50 percent of Americans have skipped or delayed care in fear of being exposed to the virus.

For some of those patients, the health issues they might have normally gone to see a healthcare provider to address are now water under the bridge—a sinus infection that cleared up on its own or low back pain that got better with icing and rest. For the rest, those health issues have not gone away, and, in some cases, they will continue to get worse until the patient is forced to seek care. And that’s where things get tricky because almost a third of American patients say they are still too scared of coronavirus to visit a doctor in person.

Because ambulatory visits have decreased by almost 60 percent, hospitals and health systems have lost huge amounts of top-line revenue and been forced to lay off large numbers of their workforces. Will patient volumes ever return to pre-coronavirus levels? At this point, it’s difficult to say. What is clear is that healthcare systems that have embraced care automation can quickly adjust to meet patients’ needs for both care and reassurance, and stand the best chance of recovery and, ultimately, success.

Automation in health care operates the same way it does in other industries: it lets humans do what they are good at—problem solving, critical thinking, interacting with other humans—and lets computers do the tasks that require repetition, consistency, and precision. The combined human and computer efforts dramatically increase both efficiency and effectiveness.

Here’s an example of how that might work:

A patient in need of care but who is reluctant to visit a healthcare center can go to their provider’s website, navigate to the system’s virtual front door, and enter information about their health history and current symptoms through an AI-powered dynamic medical interview. The telehealth platform then gathers all the information from the interview and the patient’s health record automatically generates a provisional diagnosis and treatment plan and sends it to a clinician who can review and approve it or alter it. Once that happens, the patient receives the diagnosis and treatment plan (including any prescription orders) and their EHR is updated automatically.

If the clinician determines that the patient needs a higher modality of care, the information gathered during the online interview can be used at the next appointment, making that visit more efficient as well.

For a patient who would prefer to be seen in person, intake information can be gathered through an automated online platform either before they ever leave home or while sitting in the waiting room to make the most of their time with the clinician.

Clinical efficiency directly translates to top-line revenue for the health system in a few ways. First, the ability to deliver care in two minutes—vs 20 minutes for in-person or video visits—allows clinical resources to “see” more patients per shift. It also frees up physicians to spend time with patients who have more complex needs.

COVID-19 has changed how patients expect to interact with healthcare practitioners. It could be years before systems can recover pre-COVID-19 patient volumes. Fortunately, there are myriad ways care automation can help healthcare systems regain solvency more quickly while delivering the high-quality care their patients expect.

Ray Costantini is a pioneering healthcare executive, innovative physician, and seasoned entrepreneur who is passionate about making healthcare better. Prior to founding, he led the design, build, deployment, and operations of three groundbreaking telehealth and digital health products at Providence Health and Services, one of the largest health systems in the country. He also previously founded three successful companies and is a national speaker on healthcare innovation, telehealth, and patient engagement.