By Greg Miller
Automation supports much of our everyday lives: banking, traveling, paying bills, shopping etc. We trust automation to make things faster, safer, and more reliable, a trust that has been built over thousands of interactions that have demonstrated its benefits and dependability.
Yet, automation gets a bad rap in the healthcare field, where it has yet to be widely adopted, particularly when it applies to patient interactions.
There is a reluctance to remove the human touch from medical interactions for fear of weakening the patient-provider connection or introducing potential risk. The fact is those things are more likely without automation.
Forcing clinicians to spend endless hours performing mundane administrative tasks does more to undermine personal care than does automating these functions.
That bias toward keeping tasks manual is a principal reason why traditional care coordination is broken. The breakdown is evident in ORs and emergency departments, and its financial impacts are felt in C-suites as well. Health systems can address care coordination challenges in ways that cut costs and ease the burden on personnel, but healthcare leaders must first acknowledge that current methods for coordinating, verifying, and advancing steps in a patient’s clinical journey are manual, variable and unscalable – and need to be changed.
A faulty system
Manual – Most care coordination tasks — scheduling appointments, following up with patients, or tracking down lab orders — are done by people. Healthcare systems either hire employees to perform these activities or add responsibilities to existing personnel. In many cases, administrative functions are done by clinical personnel, which removes them from direct patient care. Care coordination is expensive, time-consuming, sometimes tedious, and often delayed by the inability to complete required tasks in a timely manner.
Variable – Care coordination tends to get dispersed among care providers, within the same organization and among care sites. And they often execute the same tasks differently. Not only can this create an inconsistent care experience for patients, but the lack of integration among health information systems makes it easy to miss or not record steps.
Unscalable – Historically, health systems have met care coordination demands by hiring. However, labor shortages and burnout mean additional staff isn’t available. Furthermore, financial pressures restrict hiring. How can health systems scale care coordination efforts without hiring?
The power of automated care orchestration
Clinicians are tired of the administrative burdens of care coordination, but most don’t see an alternative. All they’ve known is manual execution, and they’re too far removed from health system IT departments to realize technology offers relief. It’s time to make the connection. While automating care coordination processes can conjure up images of a complex artificial intelligence algorithm making predictions based on trained data models, the reality is simpler and more elegant. It’s deterministic care orchestration where known information, such as the existence or absence of lab results, is automatically identified in an EHR or other data source and then next-best actions are initiated for each patient (e.g., flagging a patient for a doctor consultation or automating surgery scheduling).
Deterministic care orchestration requires real-time patient data and clinical intelligence to algorithmically identify patient risk and triage patients appropriately. Automating care coordination across large volumes of patients saves clinicians time while proper triage lets them focus on high-risk patients who need more interaction. Automation increases efficiency by freeing clinicians from repetitive care coordination tasks and letting them operate at the top of their licenses.
Furthermore, this type of orchestration creates consistency across sites of care and ensures all providers are aligned and informed on care coordination updates and responsibilities. This information sharing should extend to patients: By prompting patients to confirm or update information, health systems can identify new conditions, comorbidities, or medications before they derail a scheduled clinical event.
Innovative healthcare providers are benefiting from this technology. One system used to require every preoperative patient, regardless of health or type of surgery, to visit a clinician. This visit largely consisted of vital sign collection, order scheduling, and lab reviews — steps that have since been automated. Now, two out of three patients bypass this in-person visit, saving 20% in cost per case and increasing patient satisfaction.
This efficiency can be achieved in all types of care coordination, from care transitions and discharge readiness to chronic disease management. All that health systems must do is ignore the stigma associated with automation and let technology handle the tedium overwhelming their clinicians. About the author: Greg Miller is the chief growth officer of Lumeon, a digital health company focused on automating care coordination processes.