COVID-19: a catalust for digital transformation in the healthcare sector.

The onset of the COVID-19 crisis has taken the lives of many citizens across the US but has indirectly been the trigger of digital transformation acceleration in healthcare. The meaningful impacts of COVID-19 are seen through the deployment of innovations and overall organizational restructuring in healthcare.

This article will delve into the digital transformations that have taken place in healthcare, which includes telehealth, artificial intelligence (AI), and bots. Post pandemic, these advances are primed to leave a lasting mark on the healthcare sector. 

Digital Transformation’s lasting stamp will affect the provider-to-patient relationship dynamics as well as the healthcare organizations’ operational efficiency.

COVID-19: Demand for telehealth and its lasting effects

Telehealth has been widely established and embraced, ever than before, by providers and patients alike due to the rapid influx of COVID-19 cases.

Geisinger Health has seen a 500% increase in telehealth visits within the first couple of weeks since the outbreak. Over 1,000 providers have been trained on performing telehealth visits with patients.

Telehealth, virtual visits, and its overall utilization were 10-15 times more than the pre-pandemic levels. The model shift from in-person medical visits to virtual visits has enabled providers to split their attention by treating patients in person who are critically ill due to COVID-19, and along with providing care to their non-critical cases through telehealth.    

In addition, telehealth has allowed patients, who are in acute care, to connect with their loved ones virtually while safeguarding the health, social distancing, of individuals who would traditionally go in person to visit.

The National Academy of Medicine has estimated that every year doctors order over $200 billion in unnecessary tests and treatments.

  • The reduction in non-essential/low value elective procedures and hospitalizations for unnecessary test saves monetary spending and puts the patient less at risk to contract infectious diseases.

Ultimately, the emergence of telehealth, virtual visits, during the COVID-19 pandemic has positively impacted healthcare organizations: 

  • Telehealth has placed emphasis on how to better distribute patients virtually and in person visits, critically ill versus non-critically ill, and for providers to deliver treatment of care.

  • New England Journal of Medicine showcased that patients with arthritis performed better with physical therapy - performed in home/virtual assistance provided - than with high cost administered steroid injections.

  • Telehealth has participated in the acceleration of a decade long decline in the number of hospitalizations such as procedures like chemotherapy, through a shit from clinics to in-home care.

 

The early wide adoption of telehealth, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, has led to the redesign of healthcare organizations’ operational functions, reduced waste in the system, decreased risk to patients, and added value to patient care. Because of all those benefits, even more important during critical and stressful times, telehealth will further continue to be utilized by healthcare providers and patients post COVID-19. However, it will not replace the in-person contacts and come as an additional means for a better, more efficient and adapted interaction between the providers and the patients. 

Artificial Intelligence as an immediate solution to healthcare providers amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, and long-term impacts to the patient-provider relationship

Demand for technology powered by Artificial Intelligence (AI) is surging in an unprecedented manner. AI technology is being used predominantly to help address the new challenges that have emerged as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. It has proven to be an efficient solution in delivery of care to patients by easing the saturated condition of the healthcare system.

Given the variety of solutions powered by AI, rapid adoption, and therefore investment, is increasing in this sector. Market research by International Data Corp. (IDC) has forecasted global spending to grow between 25-32%, resulting in a total of $48 – 50.7 billion. While other research provides an outlook of flat growth, when looking specifically at the healthcare provider space, rapid adoption and implementation of AI is evident.

From the perspective of AI firms, several healthcare AI software companies have seen an increase in demand during the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Gyant.com Inc., which sells virtual assistant software to healthcare organizations, has seen its monthly sales triple since the beginning of the year, per the company’s co-founder.

  • At Care.ai Inc., another healthcare technology company, clients are looking to deploy the implementation of the company’s AI-powered monitor systems within a 6-month period instead of the original 12-month period.

This acceleration to adopt such AI-powered technologies is vastly seen across different healthcare provider systems, who are now going through a digital transformation, largely brought upon the COVID-19 pandemic. There is a particular focus on regulating the flow of visitors and possible patients.

  • Tampa General Hospital (“Tampa General”), in collaboration with Care.ai, installed a new AI-powered camera system designed to detect feverish visitors with a simple facial scan. When first implemented, Tampa General had only admitted three COVID-19 cases, but, as it was preparing for an influx, part of the outbreak response plan included limiting foot traffic within the hospital.

AI technology is also transforming the way healthcare providers interact with patients. As large healthcare systems are overloaded and resources and personnel are at peak utilization, healthcare providers have looked at AI to help address this soaring patient demand.

  • Partners HealthCare in Boston identified that a majority of callers didn’t require additional care, which was resulting in unnecessary long wait times, overwhelmed staff, and missed opportunities to direct individuals to the appropriate care setting.

  • From this, the Partners COVID-19 Screener was developed, which used AI-powered technology to present patients with a series of questions based on content provided by experts from the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Partners Healthcare. The AI-bot screened the patient based on their answers, and was able to rapidly differentiate between those who may or may not be sick with COVID-19.

The response to COVID-19 today has expedited the adoption and scaling of AI tools. From new AI-powered communication systems being implemented to reach patients, to bots being deployed to confront the threat of this virus, the digital transformation that is evidenced today is expected to result in healthcare providers making significant changes to the way care is administered. 

Bots as quick stabilizers to an overwhelmed healthcare system, and long-term benefits of their implementation

Bots are one of the many solutions that AI-powered technologies offer. They are programmed with intelligence to perform designated tasks, which makes them extremely useful to industries, such as healthcare and the providers in that space.

Due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, large organizations like Microsoft are using their existing technology to help solve many of the challenges that have come about.

  • Microsoft is specifically working with the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and many major healthcare providers to implement a chat bot to help tackle the current crisis.

  • The Microsoft chat bot is similar to the one created by Partners Healthcare in Boston, but it casts a wider net in terms of the resources it can provide and the areas it serves.

  • Its general purpose is to guide users through a self-assessment and connect them through medical professionals and additional resources if the patient is determined to present a risk.

  • The bot has proven to be a success as the first week after it was implemented in Providence Healthcare, 40,000 sessions of visitors were recorded, and 6,000 video consultations were made.

Currently, the spread of COVID-19 is causing shortages in medical supplies, equipment, emergency room beds, and ICU capacity, and it is stretching the entire operational system of healthcare providers.

A leading factor is the exponential growth rate, where unprecedented demand overwhelms the system to the point where the rapid large-scale adoption of digital operating technologies is the only solution.

By digitalizing as many steps as possible, as evidenced with Providence Healthcare, systems can be scaled up without the constraint of human labor at much faster rates.

Though not all aspects of human clinical reasoning and decision making are easily replaceable within the healthcare provider space, the current environment does present major areas of opportunity to pursue digital transformation through the implementation of bots, in order to improve the patient experience and outcomes.

HOW SIA PARTNERS CAN HELP

After going through the stressful times of a pandemic, patients now have a different level of expectations from healthcare providers, and those providers need to adapt quickly and accelerate their digital transformation through telehealth, artificial intelligence and bots.

Leveraging its experience in the Healthcare sector, Sia Partners can provide guidance to providers along the Digital transformation journey and help address its long-lasting effects beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, in particular:

1.    Digital Transformation strategy & roadmap definition

Working together with the Healthcare provider, Sia Partners can lay out a strong foundation for a Digital Transformation strategy and roadmap, taking a holistic approach and looking at all dimensions, from Purpose activation to Operating Model to Operations to Patient Experience and Enabling technologies.

2.    Telehealth program development and implementation

Sia Partners can support the healthcare provider throughout the design and implementation of its telehealth solution to improve patients’ access to care, finding the appropriate telehealth technology that helps patients achieve specific outcomes based on their needs with some key objectives in mind, such as improving the patient’s experience from their first interaction to the completion of care, the overall value of care and the compliance with State and Federal regulations.

3.    Process Automation and bots development

Sia Partners can help with the development and deployment of bots – from chatbots to intelligent workflow bots – using proven use cases in the Healthcare industry such as appointment management and registration, Rx processing, admission, dynamic emergency response, post-visit payment collections, etc., and leveraging some of the leading Robotic Process Automation (RPA) or Intelligent Process Automation (IPA) technologies available in the market. 

For assistance, please contact our US team:

 

Sources

  1. Emanuel, Ezekiel J., and Amol S. Navathe. “Will 2020 Be the Year That Medicine Was Saved?” The New York Times, The New York Times, 14 Apr. 2020, www.nytimes.com/2020/04/14/opinion/coronavirus-hospitals.html.

  2. Padmanabhan, Paddy, and IDG TECHtalk Voices. “How the COVID-19 Pandemic Is Reshaping Healthcare with Technology.” CIO, CIO, 27 Mar. 2020, www.cio.com/article/3534499/how-the-covid-19-pandemic-is-reshaping-healthcare-with-technology.html.

  3. Wittbold, Kelley A., et al. “How Hospitals Are Using AI to Battle Covid-19.” Harvard Business Review, Harvard Business Review, 20 Apr. 2020, hbr.org/2020/04/how-hospitals-are-using-ai-to-battle-covid-19.

  4. Council, Jared, and John McCormick. “AI Spending Is Expected to Weather Coronavirus Slowdown.” The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones & Company, 30 Mar. 2020, www.wsj.com/articles/ai-spending-is-expected-to-weather-coronavirus-slowdown-11585560602.

  5. Huckman, Robert S. “What Will U.S. Health Care Look Like After the Pandemic?” Harvard Business Review, Harvard Business Review, 20 Apr. 2020, hbr.org/2020/04/what-will-u-s-health-care-look-like-after-the-pandemic.

  6. Tilley, Aaron. “Microsoft, CDC Team Up on Chatbot to Check for Coronavirus Symptoms.” The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones & Company, 19 Mar. 2020, www.wsj.com/livecoverage/coronavirus/card/ih47JgriBzLY0nXEbncs.

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