Despite the uncertain economic outlooks ahead, the worldwide healthcare industry is forecasted to continue its growth trajectory, with Deloitte predicting that global health care spending is expected to rise at a CAGR of 5% between 2019 to 2023. In view of the expected industry growth, staff productivity has become a key area of focus in hospital management. This issue has gained more priority in view of the pandemic. As the COVID-19 pandemic moves into its second year, hospitals around the globe have had to grapple with an increase in patients and workload. There have been numerous reports of rising healthcare worker stress and fatigue, and hospitals in some countries are facing difficulties retaining staff.
In the race to raise productivity and efficiency, there are some solutions that healthcare organisations can explore, such as leveraging on AI technology, and relooking at organisational workflow.
Leveraging on AI
Many industries have looked to Artificial Intelligence (AI) as the key to raising productivity. Undoubtedly, AI technology has shown much potential in the healthcare sector as well, in alleviating the heavy workload that healthcare staff are facing.
In the rapidly developing field of AI, researchers have pinpointed a growing number of potential applications of AI in healthcare. Based on interviews with healthcare and AI professionals, a 2020 McKinsey report forecasted that there will be three phases of scaling AI in healthcare – first of which would be solutions that address the low-hanging fruit of routine, repetitive and largely administrative tasks, as well as AI applications based on imaging, which are already in use in specialties such as radiology, pathology, and ophthalmology. These would then be followed by AI solutions that support the shift from hospital-based to home-based care, such as remote monitoring, AI-powered alerting systems, or virtual assistants; and lastly, AI solutions in clinical practice based on evidence from clinical trials, which will signal the arrival of AI as an integral part of the healthcare value chain.
The McKinsey study noted that AI can help reduce, or even completely eliminate, time spent on routine administrative tasks, which can take up to 70 percent of a healthcare practitioner’s time. This would allow staff to spend most of their time focusing on providing quality patient care instead.
Relooking at existing workflows
With technology tools now widely used in the healthcare setting, it would also be useful for institutions to relook at how these solutions have been integrated into workflows. Tools that lead to redundant or overlapping processes may be a detriment instead to staff efficiency.
An example would be the usage of electronic medical records (EMRs). In a survey conducted by Stanford Medicine and The Harris Poll, 71% of surveyed physicians responded that instead of being a productivity aid, “EMRs greatly contribute to physician burnout, with 62% of time devoted to each patient spent in the EMR”.
This is as existing EMR systems often require large amounts of data input. There are also varying systems that do not connect to each other, which leads to physicians having to access multiple systems to obtain all the information needed. The physicians suggest “improving EMRs’ user interfaces and solving interoperability deficiencies” to improve the tool’s usefulness in boosting efficiency.
It is thus crucial for institutions to seek regular input and feedback from its staff on the workflow processes or bottlenecks that they have been facing. If technology tools are brought in, the end-users should also be involved in the development or testing phase of the tools, to ensure that the tools are indeed solving the issues they have been created to solve, and avoid user challenges and frustrations down the road.
The issue of healthcare staff efficiency and productivity will continue to feature prominently in the future – with ageing populations, rising incidence of chronic diseases and a demand-supply gap of health professionals in the sector. Supporting overwhelmed staff through technology adoption and workflow redesign will allow them to spend more time looking after patients, ultimately serving to ensure quality patient care and higher employee retention.