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Artificial intelligence is trickling into medical practices. Here’s what you should know about the technology.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is here to stay. You already use it every day, whether you are aware of it or not: AI helps you find the perfect movie on Netflix, filters what’s trending on your personalized Facebook news feed, and plays music on demand via Amazon’s Alexa. AI is transforming business models, processes, and strategies in multiple industries. Healthcare, specifically the physician practice, is no exception. Using AI to improve both the patient experience and operational efficiency through automation is the sensical place to begin.
AI technologies such as neural networks, machine learning, or natural language processing can look complex, even scary, for non-techies. The reality is, there are simple AI technologies that can make a huge difference in small- and medium-sized practices. Most of these technologies identify and mechanize patterns. Sometimes, those patterns are hidden in the airwaves, as is the case with speech recognition. Other times, the patterns are buried in the curious way we behave day after day.
The term AI generally refers to computer algorithms that are able to emulate a task performed by a human. These tasks could be as simple as vacuuming a room or automatically detecting cavities from X-rays, which the startup dentistry.ai does. One technology in particular is becoming quite powerful: Robotic Process Automation through bots. A bot is a computer program that communicates with humans in plain English. Text messages are the medium of communication for channels such as Facebook Messenger or short message service (SMS). If you add in a speech recognizer and/or synthesizer, the bot can speak as well. For example, Alexa has a library of applications called Skills, where you can do anything from order a pizza to check your credit card balance. A bot’s purpose is to automate repetitive and mundane tasks, freeing humans to tackle more complex responsibilities.
Appointments: New AI chatbots can automate the lifecycle of appointments via text message and/or talking with patients in plain English. These services enable patients to book, confirm, and reschedule medical appointments in sync with existing EHR calendars. Practices reduced no-shows between 30 to 50 percent and saved at least 25 hours of phone call follow-ups per provider in a month, according to research of both Nimblr and drchono users.
Accounting: AI programs can automate several parts of the accounting life cycle. The routing of invoices can be automatically discovered and performed. Routine questions about expenses and receipts can be performed by bots. For example, one of the biggest pain points for accounting departments is account reconciliation with banks and other institutions. AI programs have been taught to read bank statements, automate the process, and help discover fraud.
Health insurance: The rules covering health insurance contracts are complex and normally require a human to interpret them. One recent advancement is “smart contracts.” These perform most of the grunt work of getting authorizations from the insurance company to the healthcare provider and explaining the options to patients. Smart contracts are generic legal statement templates that live on the cloud and execute payments without a middle man. Eliminating the middle man represents cost cutting and efficiencies opportunities. Smart contracts allow healthcare practices to optimize insurance payments and cut through the red tape.
The main obstacles to implementing new technologies in medical practices are limited technical and economic resources. The reality is that nobody wants more applications and screens added to their day-to-day operations. However, invisible AI apps have the opposite effect: simplicity, seamlessness, and productivity with fewer resources. Here are a few common misconceptions about AI adoption.
High complexity: Think about you how use Alexa or Apple’s Siri. You did not need to receive special training or install new software to use them. The same concept applies to invisible AI apps in medical practices, as many are naturally integrated with EHRs. You can find and activate them yourself. Check out Athenahealth, drchrono, and Carecloud marketplaces for some examples.
High costs: AI as a service and the cloud economy allow practices to avoid large or risky investments in software and hardware. Free trials allow you to measure the economical and operational impact at your practice without making up-front investments or commitments. Should you decide to continue using them, you will likely pay a monthly fee per user or volume of transactions (e.g., appointments, invoices). In other words, you will have a variable cost with high returns.
AI will replace human workers: Creativity, patient empathy, and change adaptation are uniquely human characteristics that can never be replaced. Bots help with basic tasks that are time inefficient and repetitive, releasing your talent for more valuable functions.
The healthcare industry is facing increasing consumerization from patients who are demanding better services, lower costs, and around-the-clock accessibility. Medical practices must be open to adopting AI tools in order to meet these demands. AI can have a big impact on your practice and leave you with additional time to focus on the happiness of your patients.
Juan Vera, serial tech entrepreneur, is the co-founder and CEO of Nimblr.ai.