Guest Column | February 13, 2018

The Ever-Changing Landscape Of Health IT And What's In Store This Year

By Perry Price, CEO/President of Revation Systems

VA Changes

As Spring approaches and temperatures begin to rise, the shift in season often spurs vision for the unfolding year — building on the previous year’s achievements. While 2017 alone brought much change, the progress in healthcare technology over the past five years is enormous. With expanding deployments and more sophisticated use of telehealth and EHRs, healthcare organizations across the country are evolving at a rapid pace to provide an enhanced level of care and more convenient communications to patients.

Indicative of health IT’s evolution is the increased adoption of numerous new digital technologies with the hope of revolutionizing the patient experience. According to the 2016 HIMSS Connected Health Survey, 52 percent of hospitals indicated the use of three or more of the following technologies: mobile optimized patient portals, apps for patient monitoring, telehealth (audio visual fee for service) and SMS texting.

As new technology continues to be introduced in the industry, healthcare organizations are presented with quite a variety of solutions to deploy to enhance the patient experience. With smartphone applications becoming the standard of communication in healthcare, increasing patient engagement is the goal of new health IT solutions.

The push for increased patient engagement has resulted in a growing trend of using artificial intelligence (AI) to improve communications as well. A recent study on Artificial Intelligence & Cognitive Computing Systems in Healthcare by Frost & Sullivan estimates that AI market revenue will increase to $6,662.2 billion by 2021 at a compound annual growth rate of 40 percent — making it clear that AI will be at the forefront of advancements in healthcare IT in the next few years.

AI Chatbot Technology For Appointment Scheduling

According to the HIMSS Analytics HIT Market Indicator: Artificial Intelligence, more than half of the hospitals surveyed plan to implement AI within the next five years, and 35 percent of healthcare organizations are planning to leverage artificial intelligence within the next two years. As AI technology rapidly pervades the healthcare industry, chatbot technology in particular will begin to trend.

While recent trends in the wake of healthcare’s digital transformation show an increase in the use of smartphones and mobile device applications, scenarios still remain where patients would prefer to call a clinic or hospital and speak with a representative to schedule an appointment — such as scheduling with a specialist or for a major surgical procedure. Although the desire to communicate with a real person may seem contrary to all the new AI technology, healthcare organizations can actually use AI to meet those consumer expectations.

In the coming years, chatbot technology will be used to completely automate the scheduling experience for patients — whether it’s done through SMS text messaging or over the telephone. Chatbot technology with both voice and text interfaces will be introduced in the coming years, providing patients with more options and greater flexibility in scheduling medical appointments. AI chatbot technology also has the potential to create a greater efficiency in medical contact centers, while completely transforming the patient experience — because although attempts to improve the patient experience through technology may inherently seem to depersonalize the medical experience, AI is proving otherwise.

Speech-To-Text Technology To Automate EMR Documentation

Additionally, though patient visits have required a dual focus (both on the data being communicated by the patient and on the documentation of such data) from doctors in the past, new trends in technology are eliminating the need for doctors to direct their focus on recording notes in a patient’s medical record. The future of health IT will include an automated EMR system with speech-to-text recognition — enabling providers to participate in naturally flowing conversations with patients, without the distraction of simultaneously typing notes on a laptop.

Consider the following scenario: A patient has an appointment with her primary care provider to report symptoms of a recent condition she has been experiencing. Instead of awkward pauses in the conversation to accommodate the provider’s need to take notes on a laptop, there is a touchscreen on the wall in the room that uses speech-to-text technology to automate the documentation process for the patient’s medical record based on the conversation.

Although this type of technology may seem far off, a clinic like this already exists – Forward in San Francisco, Calif. – where the doctors can give patients their full focus during the visit. This technology also enables providers to maintain eye contact with patients, further improving the quality of conversation. Using speech-to-text technology can create an environment where patients are able to more naturally communicate with their doctors without the distraction of a laptop — thereby improving both the patient outcomes and overall experience of the visits. As advancements in speech-to-text and real-time analytics technology continue to develop, clinic models such as Forward are sure to expand nationwide.

The Role Of Unified Communications In The Future Of Healthcare

Trends like chatbot and speech-to-text technologies highlight the importance of enhancing patient-provider communications for the future of healthcare. As digital transformation continues to re-shape communication in healthcare, unified communications (UC) will become key to propelling the industry into its next phase of innovation. As predicted by Gartner, there will be 25 billion smartphones, smartwatches, wearables and other connected devices by 2020. With mobile technology holding such great influence in our society, the expectation for a seamless, multichannel experience in healthcare communications will make UC technology a standard for the future of healthcare experiences.