By Rick Halton, Vice President of Marketing, Lumeon

Automotive self-driving just celebrated its 53rd birthday. In 1968, Daniel Aaron Wisner invented the “Automotive Electronic Cruise Control” in Michigan after enhancing his first invention with a digital memory. Some say this was the first step in a long journey for automation in driving. Self-driving cars have more recently hit the news, with innovations such as automated parking assist, proximity, and blind-spot alerts – further essential steps toward an autonomous driving future. However, fully autonomous driving is still likely decades away. 

Meanwhile, semi-autonomous driving is beginning to enter the market with new automation features such as adaptive cruise control, traffic signal alerts, and emergency breaking and maneuvering – even if they don’t work in all situations, and hands must continue to be firmly on the steering wheel. Beyond the hyperbole of fully autonomous driving, the path towards it appears to be starting small, slowly building up to something much more significant as we solve a complex problem piece-by-piece and move forward step-by-step.  

Automation in digital health has strong parallels to automated driving; they are both environments where complex decision making is required, have many potential routes, and need to deal with rapidly changing circumstances – and safety is paramount. Like autonomous driving, digital health automation is still in its infancy but has seen some early innovations: automated alerts, reminders, order sets, electronic forms, decision support, care pathways, risk analytics, and chatbots. These early foundation stones are key steps towards a semi-autonomous patient journey, where automation is applied to fast-track lower-risk patients while escalating by exception those who need more hands-on attention. 

Let’s take an example where automation is used to facilitate a surgical care journey: pre-operative readiness. By applying deep automation to the pre-operative process, we can fast-track low-risk ASA1 (American Society of Anesthesiologist classification) patients quickly into surgery while identifying more complex patients, such as ASA 2/3, escalating them for further evaluation. Deep automation means pulling the patient preferences, appointments, orders, and problems directly from the electronic medical record – then using this information to personalize and automate the activity and route of the care journey. If the patient prefers SMS communication, then that becomes the priority. If the patient doesn’t respond, then they are automatically chased via alternative communication channels. If the patient is currently taking medications, these are automatically checked, and instructions are sent to the patient to stop or reduce their dosage before surgery. If the patient has recommended imaging and tests, orders are automatically checked, gaps identified and then flagged to a clinician who can fill that care gap at the click of a button.  

Although we are in the early stages of automation in digital health, technological advances are quickly entering the market, allowing us to help healthcare staff take their hands off the wheel and have the care process self-drive — for most patients. So, instead of manually figuring out the care process for every patient and chasing patients individually, we can help staff focus their time on making valuable decisions, dealing with the exceptions, and addressing those patients who most need help. This shift from early-stage automation assists staff with simple, individual, and unrelated tasks towards an automated process of continuous, dynamic care journeys, self-adjusting to the patients’ needs. 

The road ahead for automation in digital health is going to be a long and interesting one. Still, with a national shortage of nurses (a 1.1 million shortfall in the U.S. by 2022), there has never been a better time to adopt automation to relieve staff of time-consuming, routine tasks and help them focus on higher-value activity. If you’d like to know more, feel free to get in touch. 

Contact us today to find out how to optimize your organization’s processes to help your staff work smarter, not harder.