Emergency departments (EDs) are often overcrowded, leading to long wait times and a decrease in the quality of care for patients. However, 67% of ED visits are considered avoidable. This is a significant number, as it suggests that a large portion of patients visiting EDs do not actually require emergency care. This overuse of EDs is not only costly for patients, but it also contributes to physician burnout, which costs the U.S. healthcare industry up to 6.3 billion each year.
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In our case study with PZU, it was found that 50% of patients who intended to go to the emergency room changed their mind after receiving medical guidance. This highlights the importance of providing patients with the appropriate level of care, as well as the role that AI-based triage systems can play in this process.
An ED visit can cost 10 times more than a visit to an urgent care setting and 12 times more than going to a physician's office, making the latter options more financially sensible for patients who do not require emergency care. Implementing AI-based triage systems in the healthcare journey can help alleviate this issue by identifying patients who do not require emergency care and directing them to more appropriate levels of care.
But if we know that it can help, why is it still not done? In this article we will identify barriers to digital solutions adoption in healthcare and try to propose ways of eliminating such barriers.
The 3 perspectives on barriers in health digital tools adoption and how to eliminate them
Barriers to the adoption of digital tools appear in every industry. What makes healthcare distinct in that matter is that this industry has its own, very strict regulations to protect human health and lives (which is a good thing!). There’s no room for mistakes. Numerous conditions must be met for the tech company to become reliable and safe.
Let’s look at the examples of patients, clinicians, and healthcare organizations perspectives and try to figure out what makes them resistant to this change and what can be done to help.
Although 82% of providers believe connected care can detect healthcare issues earlier and 87% of primary care providers believe connected care can improve diagnoses, synchronization of different digital tools on the organizational level can be tough. Another barrier is distrust in data security and safety of the solutions. And finally, there's also concern about the ways in which clinicians and patients utilize technological tools, due to lack of awareness regarding the benefits of connecting analogue and digital healthcare.
One way to break down these barriers is to choose a digital solutions provider that will analyze your end-users journeys to help you uncover where and how to communicate this technology. For example, it's crucial to have processes in place to learn how the tool is being used in order to optimize it. On top of that, education about the benefits the digital solutions bring towards your services to both patients and clinicians to increase their interest in actually using the technology.
When it comes to data security and safety of the tool, it's essential to check if it meets the data privacy standards, has all necessary certifications, and is externally verified for accuracy. And finally, choosing the right technological partner that is able to easily integrate with your services will ensure a smooth and seamless experience
Behavioral habits play an important role here. When implementing digital solutions into healthcare you need to educate patients about their usage and build awareness around them. For example, in the flu season you can launch a campaign about digital solutions to remind vulnerable patients to get their flu vaccine and show them how your digital tools can help them on this path, i.e., to check their vaccine status and book an appointment if necessary. This way you can support them in making decisions regarding their triage and recommend specialists they should visit.
Engaging patients in their own healthcare is an important part of medical practice. Various digital solutions are becoming vital in breaking through the barriers to forming healthy habits. Not only can these tools help spread evidence-based knowledge but they also train patients to be more healthy in their daily routines (like those regarding sleep, diet, exercise, and so on). Furthermore, they remind patients about medically important actions (vaccinations, screening tests, etc.)
— Dr. Katarzyna Trybucka / Medical Consultant, Infermedica
Younger generations might be better used to new technologies than elderly patients.
However age can be a double-edged sword in digital tools adoption. On one hand, lack of experience, or hearing or visual impairments can be considered a barrier to accessing technology in elderly patients. On the other hand, Generation Z and Millenials who are used to top-notch technology in their everyday lives have high expectations for digital solutions and can become easily frustrated when such tools aren't fully integrated with other parts of the patient journey.
Getting to know your patients and what their needs are is the key here. For elderly patients with their technology anxiety the solutions can be implemented in the form of a call center to facilitate access and bridge technology gaps. For younger generations the key is to wisely integrate solutions to create seamless patient journeys to make their interactions as comfortable as possible.
With clinicians’ barriers regarding digital tools adoption, age is also a significant factor. Right now, there are more older than younger doctors. This comes down to what was written above - the technological anxiety along with lack of trust, and, once again - their habits. Another barrier is that clinicians operate in a super busy work environment, where they split time between dealing with patients and paperwork and don’t have time to navigate between different work tools.
Education regarding the usage of digital tools yet again plays a key role in overcoming these barriers. When adopting digital solutions you need to train clinicians about the benefits of incorporating such tools in their day-to-day practice. You also need to train them in technological aspects of such solutions to gain their trust and confidence.
Another important factor is streamlined information flow. Clinicians need their work tools seamlessly integrated, preferably within a single tab. Solutions like Infermedica’s Intake prepares patients for their visit and organizes their medical information for the doctor. It allows physicians to avoid asking repetitive questions, minimizes admin tasks during the visit, and frees up more time to spend with patients.
Healthcare is a fast-paced working environment that requires focus on details. For us doctors, the number one focus is patients and their health concerns. That’s why we need a seamlessly working software environment that doesn't cause any distraction in the diagnostic and therapeutic thinking process.
— Dr. Michał Urbanowicz / Marketing Lead, Infermedica
By providing 24/7 access to digital health solutions, such as AI-based triage systems, patients can be directed to the appropriate level of care, reducing avoidable ED visits. In fact, a study found that between 13 and 27 percent of ED visits could be referred to a primary care clinic, urgent care center, or retail clinic, thus saving the healthcare industry $4.4 billion annually.
The purpose of an emergency department is to treat accidents and emergencies, but EDs are currently being overcrowded with low-acuity cases that could be seen at other care facilities. So fundamental system-wide changes need to be introduced to support the modification of health-related behavior. Choosing the right technological provider of digital solutions will do just that.