By Murray Brozinsky, President and Chief Strategy Officer, Conversa
As the United States approaches spending 20% of gross domestic product on healthcare — more than twice as much as other developed countries — we are reaching a level that is unsustainable, and cutting costs becomes imperative.
But reducing costs is only one of the four aims of the “quadruple aim,” an industry effort advocating for the healthcare system of the future. Developed by the Institute of Healthcare Improvement, the quadruple aim’s other objectives are improving the patient experience, improving the health of populations and reducing the cost of care.
So, how can we spend less while simultaneously making patients healthier and happier and helping healthcare professionals to be more satisfied?
Technology needs to be part of the solution set. According to Healthcare Weekly, there are five areas where automation can drive savings:
- Reducing administrative tasks so that clinicians can allocate more time to see and treat patients
- Lowering staff time spent on scheduling appointments
- Creating digital tools to engage patients as consumers
- Streamlining claims processing and collections
- Optimizing supply chain management
Intelligent patient engagement tools, such as chatbots, are automated technologies that serve patients, providers and payers. These tools are attracting attention for their potential to help the industry save money, enhance patient and physician satisfaction, and improve health outcomes.
Investments in chatbots across the healthcare industry are predicted to grow exponentially over the next decade, in part due to the need for cost optimization, according to a report from BIS Research. In fact, almost $500 million is expected to be invested in chatbots by 2029.
Chatbots can improve the patient experience by helping patients schedule appointments, following up with appointment reminders, improving medication adherence and acting as therapists, according to the report.
While chatbots provide value in many ways, three key areas are of particular interest to health systems:
- Freeing physicians from administrative tasks. It’s estimated that physicians spend as much as 49% of their day on desk work, including administrative tasks related to electronic health records (EHRs). Chatbots can collect data automatically, freeing up physicians for more time with patients.
- Reducing time spent on scheduling. Staffing and labor costs amount to half of a facility’s total costs and 90% of their variable costs. Automating scheduling could significantly reduce the need for staffing and better manage staff resources. According to some estimates, costs could be cut by up to 40% through the use of automation tools. Chatbots can be used to set appointments, provide reminders and improve communication. Better communication also helps reduce barriers to patient care, such as solving transportation problems that prevent patients from making it to their doctor visits.
- Engaging patients in their care. In post-acute situations when patients are home recovering from a procedure or involved in home-based treatment, chatbots offer myriad opportunities for savings. Chatbots can ensure continuous two-way communication between the patient and provider, which dramatically increase patient touch points while lowering cost. These touch points can capture critical information, such as valuable sensor-based clinical measurements from devices, self-reported side effects and answers to questions, at specific points in the patient journey.
The data collected by chatbots can help clinicians and care managers better allocate resources. With the ability to automate the care of low-acuity situations while escalating patients who need immediate attention, chatbots ensure physician compliance and enable streamlined treatments. This continuous communication also reduces the chance of unnecessary and costly readmissions.
When a patient with congestive heart failure is discharged from the hospital, for example, a predictive model can provide a score that indicates the patient’s risk of ending up back in the hospital. However, some of the factors that determine the risk of readmission—whether clinical, social determinant of health (SDOH) or another factor—may change once the patient is home. When you can continually reach out to and interact with the patient and ask questions and take readings, you can see if her risk profile has changed. If it has changed, you can intervene before it results in a readmission or a trip to the ER.
Conversing with patients via chatbots on their mobile phones is a key channel that hospital leaders can use in their efforts to achieve the quadruple aim. And it’s what patients and providers want: Research shows more than half of patients (54%) and physicians (56%) expect smartphones to become their touchpoint with their health system.