Traditional care coordination is disrupted. Registered nurses (RNs), physician assistants (PAs), medical care managers, physicians, and healthcare administrative staff are probably nodding their heads in agreement right now. Current de facto methods for coordinating, verifying, and progressing steps in a patient’s clinical journey are manual, variable, and non-scalable, creating a significant challenge for today’s healthcare providers. Let me explain what I mean by these terms:
Guide – Most care coordination tasks—whether it’s scheduling appointments, tracking patients, or tracking lab orders—are performed by humans. Healthcare providers either hire staff to perform these activities or change the roles of existing staff to meet the need. In many cases, the burden of administrative functions is placed on clinical staff, taking time away from direct patient care. Efforts to coordinate care are time-consuming and tedious. Often, coordination tasks are delayed due to the inability of available personnel to complete the required tasks on time. Also, due to the dependence on human labor, efforts to coordinate care are extremely expensive.
Variable – The steps to coordinate care tend to be dispersed among many different care providers—both within the same organization and across care sites. Individual care teams and care sites perform the same tasks in different ways. Not only can this create an inconsistent patient care experience, but the lack of tight integration between siled health information systems makes it easy for steps to be overlooked, missed, or miscommunicated. When you consider that patients with multiple chronic conditions can see as much 14 different doctors annually, the degree of this variability becomes frightening.
Non-scalable – Historically, health systems have dealt with care coordination requirements by throwing more bodies at the problem. In today’s environment of health care workforce shortages and burnout, additional personnel are simply not available to devote to this effort. In addition, financial pressures are causing many health systems to place greater controls on hiring. How should a health system scale its efforts to coordinate care when more people are unavailable? The answer is automation.
The inaccurate stigma of automation in patient care
Automation technology is not new. In fact, we trust it implicitly in other aspects of our lives—whether it’s automating electronic bill payment or relying on an airplane’s autopilot navigation system. However, the technology has yet to be widely adopted in healthcare – especially when it comes to patient interactions. There is reluctance to remove the human touch from medical interactions for fear of weakening the provider-patient relationship or introducing potential risk. The fact is, these results are more likely without automation. There is less humanity in continuing to force clinicians to spend countless hours performing mundane and repetitive administrative tasks than in automating these functions and allowing clinicians to focus on individualized patient care.
Clinicians are tired of the administrative burden imposed by care coordination, but most are unaware that there is a better alternative. Doing these tasks manually is all they’ve ever known, and these people are often too far removed from health system IT departments to realize that technology can be applied to provide much-needed relief. It is time to bridge this divide.
Automated care orchestration provides relief and consistency
When I talk about automating care coordination processes, I don’t mean a complex artificial intelligence (AI) algorithm that makes predictions based on trained data models. What I mean is much simpler and elegant. This is deterministic care orchestration, where known information is automatically identified in the EHR or other data source (eg, presence or absence of lab results in the patient’s chart, whether lab results are normal or abnormal, etc.) and subsequent best actions are initiated for each patient (eg, flagging a patient for physician consultation or automating surgery planning).
This type of deterministic care orchestration requires real-time patient data and clinical intelligence to algorithmically identify patient risk and appropriately triage those patients. Automating care coordination steps for high patient volumes can save clinicians time, while proper triage can allow those clinicians to focus on high-risk patients who need more interaction. Automation allows clinicians to work at the top of their licenses by freeing them from the minutiae of repetitive care coordination tasks.
Automated care orchestration can also help create consistency across care sites and ensure all providers are aligned and informed about care coordination updates and responsibilities. This information cycle can (and should) extend to patients. For example, by prompting patients to confirm or update information in their patient charts or medication lists, health systems can identify and address new conditions, comorbidities, or medications before they potentially derail a planned clinical event, such as surgery.
A select number of innovative healthcare providers are already realizing the measurable benefits that automated care orchestration can provide. For example, one prominent healthcare system uses automation in its preoperative workflows. Historically, this provider required every patient, regardless of their overall health or type of surgery, to have an in-person visit with a clinician. That visit largely consisted of taking vital signs, scheduling orders, and lab reviews—steps that have since been automated. Now 67% of the health system’s patients can bypass this in-person visit, resulting in a 20% reduction in case costs and increased patient satisfaction.
This is just a small sampling of the efficiencies that can be realized in all types of care coordination efforts—from care transition and discharge readiness to chronic disease management. All health systems need to do is remove the stigma often associated with automation and let technology do the care coordination work that currently overwhelms their valuable clinicians.