How telemedicine and AI can save time and money for healthcare providers

There’s no denying that Covid-19 has illuminated the promise of artificial intelligence (AI) to the healthcare world. Not long ago, remote medicine was considered more hype than reality – but the pandemic propelled it into the spotlight. Telemedicine, which sits within the broader telehealth umbrella, increased healthcare access; one step on, AI-driven symptom checking has enhanced preliminary diagnosis and triage further.

It’s now clear that telehealth has the power to transform the patient-doctor relationship, so it’s no surprise that – in the US alone – the telehealth market is predicted to grow by 28% by 2026. Moreover, as the technology has shot up the agenda for national and commercial healthcare systems globally, insurance firms are recording increased use cases.

Providing the opportunity to streamline the consultation process, this can’t come at a more critical time. As life expectancy increases around the world — by 2050, it’s reported that one-quarter of people in Europe and North America will be over the age of 65 — demand on healthcare systems is unprecedented.

For healthcare providers and insurers, that means catering to an influx in patients with potentially more complex needs, while also providing for the many millions of younger patients who seek medical advice. As such, they need to find ways to ensure processes are sustainable and that everyone has access to healthcare. Telemedicine and AI-driven symptom checking can play a key role in healthcare moving forward.

Delivering the Next Generation of Telehealth with Data and AI

Many of us have experienced telehealth over the past 12 months. Accelerated in large part due to the pandemic, telehealth is a way of seeing a physician and delivering care from anywhere, without the need for a particular physical location. Download this whitepaper from Avanade to find out more.

27 million hospital visits: two-thirds avoidable

For patients seeking assistance, their first step can often be to call their doctor’s office or visit the emergency room. Conversely, they may reach out to their health insurance company who runs them through a few questions to determine whether they need to seek in-person medical advice.

The common consequence of these routes is that waiting rooms are filled with patients who don’t need to be there. Out of 27 million annual visits to US hospitals, two-thirds are avoidable; symptoms can be treated elsewhere, such as at home or via over-the-counter medicine. The upshot of this is raising costs for healthcare providers, insurers, and patients (with the average cost of such visits topping $2,000) and less time for physicians to spend on those with more serious issues, which can impact the care they get.

Delivering better patient outcomes

Incorporating AI symptom checking and telemedicine has the power to shift the frontline of healthcare and better protect the longevity of the systems globally. AI symptom checkers can begin the patients’ journey before a teleconsultation even takes place, ascertaining the kind of problem a patient is experiencing and possible treatment options before they’ve even spoken to a doctor. They are able to recommend self-care options, if appropriate, suggest a telehealth appointment if advice is required, or direct patients to in-person care at hospitals or local doctors’ practices. Highlighting how such tools can make a difference to emergency room attendance, access to AI symptom checkers and telemedicine saw 50% of patients decide against visiting the hospital.

Similarly, insurance providers can make use of the same technology to provide more accurate guidance to patients that call up to seek medical care. Where once they may have been sent to the doctor as a precaution, accurate AI can guide them not to. In 17% of cases where a patient’s first intention was to seek urgent medical care, only 8% were actually recommended that.

This streamlining of patient flow benefits all involved. It improves access to healthcare – particularly to patients who don’t live near doctors’ offices or are away in a different country. It reduces unnecessary trips, saving money that can be reinvested back into the system. And it helps to make sure that physicians see only those most in need, allocating resources effectively. Furthermore, all that rich patient data collected by the system can be provided to the doctor, equipping them to make healthcare decisions more quickly.

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The COVID-19 response

AI-driven symptom checking provides fast, accurate healthcare advice that previously may have been requested from a physician. When combined with telemedicine, patients can receive healthcare safely, without having to visit the hospital or doctor’s office – vital during a pandemic. Conversely, if an in-person visit is still required, patients know that visits are truly necessary rather than placing themselves at risk.

Telemedicine, therefore, has helped mitigate the spread of disease in waiting rooms, relieving pressure on other aspects of healthcare, enabling physicians to continue working and provide care to those who need it. Attitudes are changing: A McKinsey report found that just 11% of Americans were using telemedicine pre-COVID; now, 76% are interested in using it. Similarly, 57% of providers view telehealth more favourably than they did pre-COVID. Both findings mark a sizable shift, reflecting how technology has stepped up to the plate in a time of need.

Strengthening the entire healthcare ecosystem

The ultimate aim of any healthtech is to improve access and the quality of patient care. Patients require access to accurate healthcare quickly; physicians need solutions that help them care for patients more effectively; insurance companies are always looking to provide more personalised services.

Telemedicine – particularly when combined with AI symptom checking that can analyse people of all ages, including entire families – can streamline care and remove some of the efficiencies, which increase healthcare costs and impact service. Patients that need in-medical assistance get it; those that don’t are provided with accurate guidance to self-care and, crucially, reassurance.

Looking ahead, the changing attitude towards telemedicine means innovation should continue to flourish and we’ll see increasing use. It will offer a wealth of opportunities for remote patient monitoring. For example, enabling providers to catch symptoms early and support patients at home, or providing better care while helping to keep them out of in-person healthcare settings, which cost a lot more for all involved.

Ultimately, improving patient care and flow through AI and telemedicine will have a positive impact and help alleviate the pressure on an increasingly in-demand healthcare system – something that our global society needs and deserves.

Written by Maciej Malenda, head of partnerships at Infermedica

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