Using AI to Improve the Healthcare Experience: Right Information, Right Time, Right Place
There’s a phrase often used to gauge healthcare quality: the right care, at the right time, in the right place. When those elements are out of sync, the patient experience can take a turn for the worse. Think about missed appointments, misunderstood pre-op instructions, mismanagement of medication… all issues that require clear and timely communication to ensure positive outcomes.
Many healthcare organizations are tapping into patient engagement tools that use artificial intelligence (AI) to drive better healthcare experiences. In this article, we’ll cover a number of use cases for AI within healthcare, showing how it can benefit providers, their patients, and their staff in an increasingly digital world.
Healthcare Consumers are Going Digital
Use of AI in the clinical space has been growing for years, from Google’s AI aiding diagnostic screenings to IBM’s Watson AI informing clinical decision making. But there are many other touchpoints along a patient’s continuum of care that can impact patient outcomes.
The industry is seeing a shift towards more personalized and data-driven patient engagement, with recent studies showing that patients are ready to integrate AI and other digital tools into their healthcare experiences.
For instance, healthcare consumers are increasingly comfortable with doctors using AI to make better decisions about their care. They also want personalized engagement to motivate them on their health journey, with 65% of patients agreeing that communication from providers makes them want to do more to improve their health.
At the same time, 80% of consumers prefer to use digital channels (online messaging, virtual appointments, text, etc…) to communicate with healthcare providers at least some of the time. This points to significant opportunities for digital tools to help providers and patients manage the healthcare experience.
Filling in Gaps: AI Use Cases for Healthcare
Healthcare will always need skilled, highly trained experts to deliver high quality care. But, AI can fill in some gaps by addressing staffing shortages, easing workflows, and improving communication. Many healthcare executives also believe AI can provide a full return on investment in less than three years.
Here are some ways AI can support healthcare consumers and providers to improve patients’ outcomes and experiences.
Streamline basic communications
Using AI as the first line to a patient for basic information enables convenient, personalized service without tying up staff resources. With tools like text-based messaging, chatbots, and automated tasks, providers can communicate with people on the devices, and at the times, that they prefer.
- Scheduling appointments
- Sending appointment reminders
- Answering insurance questions
- Following up on a speciality referral
Remove barriers to access
AI algorithms are being used in some settings to conduct initial interviews that help patients determine whether they need to see a live, medical professional — and then send them to the right provider.
AI can offer a bridge for patients who, for a host of reasons, are stuck in taking the first step. For instance, having the first touchpoint as a chatbot helps overcome a barrier for patients seeking care within often-stigmatized specialities, such as behavioral health. It can also minimize time wasted at the point of care communicating things like address changes and insurance providers.
Reduce no-show rates
In the U.S., patient no-show rates range from 5.5 to 50%, depending on the location and type of practice. Missed appointments not only result in lost revenue and operational inefficiencies for health systems, they can also delay preventive care, increase readmissions, and harm long-term outcomes for patients.
AI-driven communications help ensure that patients receive critical reminders at optimal times, mitigating these risks. For instance:
- Text-based procedure prep. Automated, time-specific reminders sent to patients prior to a procedure can ensure they correctly follow instructions — and remember to show up
- Post-procedure support. Chatbots can deliver post-op care instructions or follow-up visit reminders, with a phone number to call if things don’t improve
Close information gaps
Imagine a patient at home, alone, not feeling well, and confused about how to take their medication or how to handle post-operative care. Not having that critical information can lead to poor outcomes, including readmission.
Delivering information at the right time, in the right place, is key. But multiple issues can arise, such as:
- A patient needs help outside normal business hours
- Different care team members provide conflicting instructions
- An understaffed care team is unable to return a patient’s call in a timely manner
By providing consistent, accurate, and timely information, AI-enabled tools can provide critical support for patients and care teams.
Minimize staff burnout
Burnout and low morale have contributed to severe staffing shortages in the US healthcare system. The result is an increase in negative patient outcomes, in addition to massive hikes in labor costs for hospitals and health systems.
AI can help lighten the burden on healthcare employees through automated touchpoints in the patient journey, such as self-scheduling platforms or FAQ-answering chatbots. AI can even perform triage informed by machine learning, helping streamline the intake process and getting patients the right care as quickly as possible.
This frees up staff to focus on more meaningful downstream conversations between patients and care teams. It can also reduce phone center wait times for those patients (often seniors) who still rely on phone calls with live staff members.
Maximize staff resources
When 80% of healthcare consumers are willing to switch providers for convenience factors alone, it’s crucial to communicate with patients through their preferred channels. Some people respond to asynchronous requests (such as scheduling confirmations) late at night, while others must speak to a live staff member during the day.
Using multimodal communication channels (phone, text, email, web) offers two major benefits for healthcare providers. For one, you can better engage patients who prefer asynchronous communication. You can also identify the ratio of patients who prefer live calls and staff accordingly when it’s needed most.
Leverage customer feedback
AI provides fast, seamless avenues to gather and track patient satisfaction data and create a reliable, continual customer feedback loop. Tools like chatbots and text messaging expand the number of ways patients can communicate with healthcare providers, making it easier to leave feedback and driving not only a better digital customer experience but potentially leading to better satisfaction scores that may impact payment or quality scores.
AI offers another benefit, too: the ability to identify and respond more quickly to negative feedback. The more swiftly a problem is resolved, the better the consumer experience.
A Few Tips for Getting Started
First, find a trusted technology partner who has experience with healthcare IT stacks and understands how AI fits into the landscape. The healthcare industry is distinctly different from other verticals that might use tools like chatbots and automated tasks. You need a partner who’s familiar with the nuances of the healthcare consumer experience and regulatory compliance requirements.
Next, start small. It’s best to choose your first AI applications in a strategic, coordinated manner. One approach is to identify the biggest bottlenecks for care teams and/or patients, then assess which areas present the lowest risk to the customer experience and the greatest chance of operational success.
Finally, track the progress of your first implementation. Evaluate, iterate, evaluate again, and then expand into other areas when you’re comfortable with the results.
Focal points for iteration:
- Standardize and optimize scripts
- Simplify processes for both patients and staff
- Learn the pathways that users take to accomplish tasks
- Monitor feedback and make improvements as needed
Above all, remember that successful use of AI isn’t just about how well you implement the technology. It’s about the impact those digital tools have on improving patient outcomes and increasing patient satisfaction with their healthcare experience.
Interested in exploring the specific ways AI can benefit your care team and patients? We’re here to help! Contact us today.