How to maximize time spent with patients using automation

Photo of Raquel CorreiaRaquel Correia
October 18, 2018
... min read

Artificial Intelligence used in an automated triage system reduces administrative tasks, helps with a first triage, allows for remote monitoring, and much more. Family practice needs it. It's time!

At a glance:

Family practitioners spend a third of their day on tasks that don’t relate to medical expertise. This time is spent on scheduling exams, checking the agenda, calling back patients, bookkeeping, and even technology troubleshooting. Time spent on bureaucratic activities is wasted time. After all, we were trained to care for patients, not for administrative work.
Illustration by Tomek Tuz

Artificial Intelligence (AI) can help doctors take back that 30% of their time by improving task automation. It’s time to explore the weaknesses of the health system and come up with strategies to reinvent the workflow.

Physicians' time spent on administrative tasks

Physicians find themselves having to divide their time between humans and technology. Who has never been to an appointment where the doctor spent more time looking at the computer and fiddling with paperwork than performing the examination? Frustration increases in both patient and physician.

Technology was supposed to help, not take the whole stage. Artificial intelligence can accelerate the clinical process. It can empower the patient, cut unnecessary tasks from the physician’s workload, and summarize big data.

Tools that patients can use at home

Symptom checkers

Symptom checkers, such as Symptomate, are one of the options that help physicians get some time back. They can work in two ways: they can help medical assistants to reassure the patient, and, by collecting data about the various symptoms, they can determine which patients need immediate care and which can wait a bit longer to be seen. In certain cases, they even provide a booking system at the end of the interview. This allows physicians to save time and organize their schedule accordingly: longer appointments for those who need it the most, and shorter ones for minor complaints.

Symptom checkers also save time by avoiding unnecessary and usually stress-prone searches using Dr. Google. These investigations, although much appreciated by patients, can quickly escalate to cyberchondria. The anxiety that patients experience after browsing the internet translates into time invested by the physician to explain misconceptions during appointments.

Remote examination and consultation tools

Remote tools like Tyto Care or empower patients by letting them perform simpler parts of the physical examination, anytime and anywhere. This simple act connects patient and clinician, reinforcing the trust relationship. It also helps physicians to make better use of their time. With such information available, the physician can prescribe treatment remotely or, if an appointment is needed, prepare for the consultation in advance with the necessary data already at hand. Moreover, the relationship of trust and partnership is enriched because the discussion is based upon something done by both parties.

Electronic consultations (e-consults) are promising as well. They’re an efficient care pathway between family practitioner and specialist. Care becomes faster, cost-effective and convenient. Sometimes, it might even allow the patient to skip the specialist appointment altogether.

Tools the physician can use

AI as a personal assistant and data geek

The physician can use AI as a devoted personal assistant - one with unlimited working hours and a particularly powerful brain. AI and machine learning can analyze the exam results of patients and can archive and help make sense of vast amounts of data. This might help the primary care physician predict which patients are at risk of developing chronic diseases by presenting an overview of data. Then, the physician can establish a personalized health and treatment plan based on the available data for a given patient. Research being carried out at Boston University and the University of Nottingham shows great promise for the impact of such scalable solutions.

Given the shortage of family physicians worldwide, AI can only be an invaluable help. As recently pointed out at the World Economic Forum, China is attempting to solve their doctor shortage using AI.
Source: OECD – doctors are defined as practicing doctors providing direct care to patients.

Tools that help organize the agenda and keep up with bookkeeping can also minimize time spent, not to mention financial costs. Excellent accounting software such as Xero does wonders for time spent on this aspect of medical practice.

Chatbots and dictation solutions

Chatbots offer considerable help too. These assistants can help patients even at times when the physician isn’t at work. Answering questions, helping to book appointments… everything is possible! Physicians can have chatbots designed for them, based on their particular practice needs. This saves time for physicians and is much appreciated by patients too!

“In the UK the estimate is 3 in 5 visits to a general practitioner are things you can do on your own if you have information and advice.” says Freddy Lippert, MD, CEO EMS Copenhagen.

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Using digital voice recorders is one of the time-saving strategies. Medical dictation solutions, such as M*Modal, and EMR integrations such as those offered by Nuance are available. The further expansion of Electronic Medical Records (EMR) will bring about higher demand for such solutions. Instead of wasting time typing and looking at screens, doctors will be able to quickly enter data into the EMR in a time-efficient manner. This allows for better communication between patient and carer. The detailed narrative of the consultation is produced in front of the patient, who can see whether he was understood and add to the medical story if needed.

How can we help physicians rescue their time?

Successful use of chatbots, symptom checkers and data collection are some of the solutions that can decrease time spent on non-medical tasks. Taking into account the worldwide shortage of physicians, using technology allows physicians to provide care more efficiently.

Time saved by automating tasks improves the relationship between doctor and patient, improves job satisfaction, and cuts health related costs. It is crucial to understand healthcare professionals’ workflow and determine what can be automated. This could be done effectively by research teams working closely with multiple stakeholders such as healthcare organizations and digital health startups.

“Time saved by automating tasks improves the relationship between doctor and patient, improves job satisfaction, and cuts health related costs.”

If we overcome the hurdle of reforming time management in healthcare we pave the way to better care. Physicians burnout less, provide more human care and patients, who take an active role in their health, become empowered. Developing healthcare workers information technology skills, investing in artificial intelligence and machine learning powered systems as well as equipping patients with tools for personal care all lead to a better use of time in healthcare.

Let’s make this happen!


  • Chen CE, Chen CT, Hu J, Mehrotra A.Walk-in clinics versus physician offices and emergency rooms for urgent care and chronic disease management. Pubmed.