How AI is Revitalizing the Human Touch in Healthcare

It may seem like an oxymoron to say that artificial intelligence can restore humanity to healthcare. Generally speaking, the idea of task automation is associated with lost jobs in manufacturing. But in the sphere of healthcare, where it can literally be a matter of life and death, technology must supplement the work of highly skilled physicians who are often spending more than their fair share of time performing mundane administrative tasks. In the current state of the healthcare industry, labor has become a more scarce resource and thus  expensive. This combination of factors leads to concerning new trends such as physician burnout and, as a result, increased potential for negative patient outcomes and less humanistic care. New and novel technologies bridge the gap.

How Bad is Physician Burnout?

Physician burnout is a serious problem in healthcare, with 63% of U.S. physicians reporting signs of burnout including emotional exhaustion and depersonalization at least once per week. This is nearly a 20% increase in the last decade, attributable to the combination of the labor shortage and the pandemic, the latter of which contributed to widely publicized mass exodus of clinicians. Physician burnout can contribute to even greater costs than what’s on the surface. A report indicated that primary care physician turnover alone led to roughly $979 million in excess healthcare spending. In short: the cost of burnout goes well beyond a potentially bad employee review on GlassDoor.

How Does AI Help Combat Physician Burnout?

There’s a dystopian fear that physicians could eventually be replaced by technology, but that’s the exact opposite of what healthcare needs. Technology, in fact, can help us to avoid the robotic, “next patient-up” style of care that could take hold if the current trends aren’t curbed.. 

So what can AI solutions do to help physicians get ahead and spend more time with patients/on patient diagnosis and treatment?

  • AI helps triage cases (while providing diagnostic comfort) by flagging suspected positive cases. It can also help coordinate care following diagnosis, instantly notifying relevant specialists in the event of a suspected positive case.
    • A case study at Cedars-Sinai, for example, identified a 7-hour reduction on average from diagnostics to thrombectomy for PE cases. Here, the time-consuming burdens that are intrinsic to care coordination were alleviated to such an extent that it positively impacted patient outcomes. 
  • By flagging suspected positive cases, AI may decrease the emotional burden physicians feel in terms of missing a potential case as well as the overtime, leading to reduced levels of stress and physician burnout.
  • Doctors spend a significant amount of time combing through mountains of patient data, which can be painstakingly arduous. An obstacle in this domain is that physicians cannot instantly extract the data point they are searching for in a timely manner. Novel AI algorithms are currently being deployed as an electronic health record mining tool to assist physicians in finding precise patient lab values or diagnostics that may lead them to provide more efficient care for their patients.

Administrative Burnout

It’s no secret that physicians spend an overwhelming amount of time on administrative tasks. According to a study from Porter et al., a physician would need a 27-hour work day to effectively discuss and act on guidelines with all patients. Radiologists report spending up to 78% of their day writing notes and reviewing medical records while they are simultaneously expected to analyze an image every three to four seconds.

How AI Can Reduce Administrative Tasks for Physicians

AI solutions are known for their ability to automate, but perhaps no automation is greater than those that help physicians cut through the mundane, but necessary, administrative tasks. Here are a few ways in which AI can reduce the administrative workload for physicians:

  • Population health data extraction. This means analytic AI combs through swathes of patient data and derives insights about potential diseases a patient may be predisposed to based on specific lab values, health metrics, or imaging findings. Such AI solutions would empower physicians to engage more in preventative medicine by using patient data to make actionable insights on the fly. 
  • AI can free up the time spent on tasks like charting, heavy data analysis and care coordination, allowing them to focus on patient engagement and conversations about care and treatment. 
  • A current pain point in the life of a doctor is composing notes that are based off of conversations that they have with patients. Several companies in industry are focused on listening to patient doctor conversations and automatically extracting the important information for patient notes. By automatically generating a history of present illness and past medical history for physicians in their notes, AI vendors offer a valuable asset to help prevent physician burnout. Time spent writing patient notes is decreased when an AI algorithm is adapted to not only listen into a conversation between a patient and a doctor, but to convert the most important points from that conversation into a reliable medical note that can be placed in the patient’s electronic health records.

The overarching goal of development in the field of healthcare AI should be to improve patient care. Decreasing physician burnout may directly improve patient outcomes by creating an environment where physicians feel empowered, recharged and confident in the impact of their work. From the reading room to the primary care physician’s clinic, the goal is to leverage the power of augmented intelligence, thereby enabling physicians to spend more time interacting with their patients rather than behind a computer screen.

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