Virtual is the new physical. Be it meeting someone, conducting a conference, hanging out with family and friends, or even a marriage, the COVID-19 outbreak has transformed our way of physical interaction such that even consulting a doctor and getting treatment is done virtually today.
The deadly pandemic has taken a toll upon the world such that, we are now running out of humans to manage or control it. While some healthcare organizations are wishing if they had robots to do the job; what they don’t know is that robots are already here, just that they haven’t tapped the possibilities of it yet.
Robotic Process Automation and Artificial Intelligence solutions are already revolutionizing many industries including healthcare; around the world with their abilities and now; with the invasion of COVID-19, the need and power of RPA are simply coming into the limelight which is why its demand is skyrocketing all of a sudden.
Our healthcare organizations are themselves struggling to breathe due to the congestion of COVID-19 patients, and the only cure to alleviate the heavy strain off from the shoulders of health providers; is the implementation of software robotics and artificial intelligence that can help facilitate services, streamline workflows, ensure safety, drive efficiencies and reduce clinician burnout. Although there is a broad range of use cases of RPA in healthcare, the two of the fast-growing segments that surged under COVID-19 are Telehealth and Telemedicine.
The fear of COVID-19 and the need for social distancing forced people to explore the virtual world even more to an extent that consulting doctors and getting healthcare services happened online leading to the spike of Telehealth and Telemedicine sectors of healthcare.
Now, you may wonder how Telehealth and Telemedicine are two different sectors of healthcare? What is the difference? Well, indeed both are the practice of medicine that uses electronic and telecommunications technologies to transfer medical information for the delivery of clinical care and educational services at a distance but, telehealth refers to a broader scope of remote health care services which includes non-clinical services than telemedicine which refers specifically to remote clinical services.
As per the analysis of CDC, the number of telehealth visits increased by 50% during the first quarter of 2020, compared with the same period in 2019. About 154% of the increase in visits was also noted in surveillance week 13 in 2020. Moreover, during January–March 2020, most of the recorded spikes in Telehealth was for conditions other than COVID-19. In short, the popularity of Telehealth shot up from 5.5% to 16.2% during the last 3 weeks of March 2020 (surveillance weeks 11–13) alone. Also, 93% of clinicians believe that telehealth is an "acceptable" method and 60% believe it is a "very effective" method of patient care overall, in fact, 52.5% of clinicians agreed that it was convenient for them to provide effective treatment with virtual healthcare visits than in-office treatment. It was noted that 85% of patients who receive telemedicine services are satisfied with their medical care altogether that justifies the growth of Telehealth very well.
In the US, massive acceleration in the use of telehealth was recorded i.e. from 11 percent in 2019 to 46 percent during COVID-19. The count of consumers scaled from 50 to 175 times in telehealth and hence according to Transparency Market Research, the total US revenue of telehealth is expected to reach $19.5 billion in 2025 from $6 billion in 2016.
Of course, healthcare organizations need automation in the present times due to overwhelming COVID-19 patients. To overcome challenges of health service delivery due to time, distance, and difficult terrains, telehealth and telemedicine are blessings in disguise. Since hospitals are lacking staff already, a telemedicine chatbot i.e., a conversational virtual assistant can take up the job of handling basic tasks like conversing with people, answering their queries, educating them about the symptoms of a disease, as well as help schedule appointment with doctors and free them for more important jobs.
Artificial Intelligence is no longer restricted to research labs alone in healthcare. Its usage has been broadened to remote healthcare services like telehealth and telemedicine in the following ways.
Advanced AI chatbots use Machine Learning to learn from the inputs it experiences and help humans with their queries. Due to the surge in COVID-19 cases, people have a cloud of questions to be cleared that are mostly repeated queries, and answering them all every time is nothing but a huge wastage of resources. Therefore, AI chatbots can prove to be very useful to answer individual monotonous queries of people across the world; faster and efficiently than human counterparts while relieving medical professionals as well as eliminating the chances of human error.
Many healthcare organizations are optimizing their current algorithm with the capabilities of machine learning to aid their clinical decision-making process as UC San Diego Health did for example. Due to their application of the AL algorithm to more than 2,000 unique lung X-ray images, their clinical staff were able to quickly identify early signs of pneumonia in COVID-19 patients to determine who may require admission or extended hospitalization.
AI is empowering telehealth by helping clinicians in making better diagnoses. Due to AI, medical professionals are now able to easily analyze a patient’s vital statistics remotely and reduce unnecessary hospital visits, wait times, and other regulatory pains via telemedicine. Moreover, AI assists in not only identifying high-risk conditions and proactively alerting the care provider or patients but also helps in finding a specialist and in suggesting possible treatments based on a patient’s PHI data, prescriptions, and current symptoms.
Another area where AI application is enhancing telehealth is - patient monitoring. Since eye-to-eye interactions among doctors and patients appear to be satisfactory, AI's ability to screen the diagnostic needs of the patient to auto-generated medical prescriptions revitalizing the healthcare virtual system is a boon especially when we are in the midst of the pandemic.
It is not that healthcare automation in telehealth and telemedicine is useful only in unprecedented times such as the one we are facing right now due to coronavirus, automation is very much needed in healthcare due to the rising diseases and patients all over the world. There are certain areas in healthcare which are done manually till today when they can be automated as such areas are not only consuming valuable resources of healthcare but are causing a delay in providing premium healthcare to the patients as well.
Following are the areas in healthcare that holds the potential for automation:
One of the most time-consuming and hectic tasks is collecting patient data and scheduling a doctor’s appointment online. Patient onboarding, registration, appointment scheduling all of these can be achieved without human assistance due to the innovations in AI. Healthcare chatbots can be enabled to carry out such repetitive tasks without any errors and arrange a check-up appointment with health experts by matching the symptoms of a disease and understanding the health status of patients from the medical records and reports. So, when the interaction between the expert and the patient happens, every piece of patient information is available with the doctor to consult remotely. In short, right from patient admission, reports, and diagnosis management, diet goals, prescriptions, treatment to discharge, AI proves to be an outstanding assistant.
Doctor visit has transformed entirely due to COVID-19. Where people who used to line-up at hospitals for hours for consultation are now able to consult a health expert anytime, anywhere due to telehealth and telemedicine. With on-demand video consultancy, urgent care visits, common health queries, immediate concerns, etc., can be addressed without putting much pressure on healthcare providers.
A comprehensive 360-degree view of the patient data is necessary to provide the best support in health care that is possible with AI. Embedding artificial intelligence can help care teams improve patient care by analyzing individual patient insights, coordinating patient-clinician communication for effective care, generating and gathering data, and thereby provide relevant, thoughtful care for each patient, no matter how many are there.
Healthcare is often looked upon as a sector which has only one job - to cure patients but, there is a whole lot of before and after treatment process which require a fleet of staff for the smooth functioning of it. Although the majority of healthcare organizations are managing everything manually even today, they already are on the verge of a breakdown, and now with the outbreak of the deadly virus, everything is going out-of-control. Therefore, automation is very much required in handling the tedious task of back-office that is highly time-consuming.
AI can revolutionize back-end processing by speeding up the monotonous task of collecting patient data, verifying it, bill payment and claims follow-up, etc. like it did to NewYork-Presbyterian - one of the nation's most comprehensive academic health care delivery systems.
It is pretty much challenging for people with serious illness and their family members to frequently visit hospitals for follow-ups or rush for emergencies. Also, staying at the hospital for constant monitoring too is an expense some cannot afford, there, the power of AI shines bright. With the help of healthcare bots or on-demand video consultancy, monitoring the medication and health statistics of such patients becomes easy and affordable.
Well, there is a pool of Telemedicine Solution Providers in the market today who have come up with smart software programs, that can help automate healthcare in a way you might have never imagined before but, it is advisable not to blindly fall in love with any random automation partner you meet on the street.
The future of Telemedicine Solutions with Artificial Intelligence would be worth witnessing and experiencing as these efficient solutions are capable of transforming health care in a way that works for all, the patients, their caretakers, health experts, and the healthcare organizations. So, more innovations can be expected in the coming years.
Digital automation in patient care is much-needed at the present pandemic situation and thereafter as our healthcare is brimming already with patients and the front and back-office tasks associated with them. Therefore, adopting AI applications in Telemedicine and Telehealth is becoming the need for the hour to maintain the trust, reliability, and security with patients, doctor, nurses, specialists, vendors and the other important participants in the ecosystem, including Government agencies as well as to expand the reach and accessibility of healthcare services 24*7, without any errors and drawbacks.