The COVID-19 pandemic has been a reminder of the incredible work healthcare professionals do day after day. Yet, while the immediate peak of the pandemic may have passed, the pressure on healthcare workers remains. Clinics and hospitals are facing a backlog of elective or non-urgent appointments and are being challenged to find efficiencies in light of pressure on public finances. This is all while keeping an eye on infection rates and promoting measures to limit the likelihood of another peak. In short, there’s been no let up for those on the frontline. As time has become increasingly scarce, healthcare professionals are turning to technology to allow them reduce workloads and create more space for interaction with their patients.
Digital healthcare tools were already in place before, yet the pandemic has sped up their adoption out of necessity. Many doctors switched to virtual or tele-consultations for non-critical issues, as well as to assess patients with COVID-19 symptoms from a safe distance. Emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and robotic process automation (RPA) hold even more promise, given the ability to take over administrative and preparatory tasks that are necessary for ensuring a high standard of care. Research suggests that doctors are confident AI-based technology can greatly support them in their core duties of diagnosing, treating, referring or caring for patients. They are also open to greater automated support for administrative tasks such as triage and processing test results.
Polish telemedicine company, Telemedico, which enables patients to connect with doctors for a private video call or a secure chat to discuss their healthcare concerns, demonstrates this potential in action. While Telemedico had been up and running before the pandemic, the service saw its online consultations triple in March to 100,000. To help fulfil this demand, over 500 doctors have upskilled to be able to run virtual clinics and adjust how they interact with patients online since the Covid-19 pandemic started.
“The service allows doctors to keep in touch with patients on a weekly basis either through a quick message in a chat or through a call. For patients dealing with more aggressive illnesses this is especially valuable.”
– Monika Lubecka, Chief Operating Officer for Telemedico
The platform’s AI abilities also help patients and doctors alike better prepare for their appointments and use their limited time together more efficiently. Based on answers provided in a patient questionnaire, the AI generates a possible diagnosis, recommended referral if needed, or most appropriate course of treatment, that the doctor can review and refine. By completing this patient assessment beforehand, there’s more time for discussion during the appointment.
“The efficiencies created by using AI have given me more time to talk and get to know my patients better. Practically, this means I can use the time to provide a deeper consultation, this extra time is important, because I need to ask more questions when I cannot see and touch a patient. This new reality has created an incredible opportunity to connect with my patients with greater empathy and has enhanced many of my patient relationships, which has been very professionally rewarding.”
– Tomasz Grzelewski, Doctor, Telemedico platform
Unlike Telemedico, whose bread-and-butter is telemedicine, Romanian healthcare network REGINA MARIA was a more traditional healthcare provider and only launched its virtual healthcare service in March 2020 in reaction to the pandemic. In just ten days, the clinic worked to develop and deploy a solution that integrated perfectly with existing systems, using Microsoft Teams to facilitate virtual appointments. The service allowed the clinic to quickly ensure continuity of care for the patients it serves.
Doctors were provided with skills training to get them up-and-running on Microsoft Teams and Microsoft 365, and within three weeks, over 500 specialists were seeing patients online. To date, more than 25,000 patients have been seen during almost 60,000 appointments at the virtual clinic.
“Doctors had a positive experience with the virtual clinic, and most want to continue providing a number of consultative services, such as interpreting test results, remotely. Being able to complete some of their work from the comfort of their home has also really improved their work-life balance.”
– Gabi Herbei, Director of IT, REGINA MARIA
REGINA MARIA had already benefited from integrating technology into the organization to create greater efficiencies and improve patient care. Innovations such as the REGINA MARIA App allows patients to schedule consultations and check-in ahead of appointments, while the web browser bot helps visitors to the REGINA MARIA website find the information they need. While the virtual clinic is the most recent innovation, the healthcare provider is keen to continue enhancing all its services to provide the best care for its patients and working experience for its doctors.
Robotic process automation (RPA) is a technology which, put simply, uses software robots to automate high volume repetitive tasks. It is helping take over routine, administrative processes, thus giving healthcare professionals more time to spend with patients. One example of this is at the Mater Hospital, one of Ireland’s central hub centers for processing COVID-19 tests. In this organization, using RPA is reducing the time nurses spend completing administrative tasks by up to three hours a day, giving them time back to care for patients instead.
The partner and software company providing this innovation is UiPath. The company’s software robots are developed in the Microsoft Azure testing environment and once deployed, can help support hospitals gain efficiencies by automating applications that are otherwise hard to upgrade or update.
In the case of the Mater Hospital, software robots were deployed to automate the communication of test results from the central hub back to the ward where patients are based, as well as recommending next steps. Previously, nurses were manually inputting information into computers, spending up to 30 percent of their time undertaking these administrative tasks.
Exploring how the technology has lifted the burden placed on the nurses of the Mater Hospital, Jincy Jerry, Assistant Director of Nursing, Infection Prevention and Control noted that the technology has saved a substantial amount of time by helping the nursing staff collect the data needed to process Covid-19 cases more efficiently.
“The time saved using robotic process automation software allows nurses to be freed up to deliver services in a more impactful way, enhancing the care patients receive and ultimately improving healthcare outcomes.”
– Jincy Jerry, Assistant Director of Nursing, Infection Prevention and Control, the Mater Hospital
If there’s one key lesson to take forward following the pandemic, it’s that there’s no substitute for a caring, expert, human hand. By supporting the development and deployment of digital solutions that ease the burden on already-stretched healthcare professionals we can free up their time to do what they do best: caring for those most in need, when and where they most need it.