The talent shortage in healthcare is a global crisis. Practices worldwide are understaffed and struggling to stay afloat while patients are left without proper care. While the COVID-19 pandemic may have kickstarted the talent shortage, it doesn’t seem to be resolving itself anytime soon.
For practices to get back on track and address this shortage, they must think outside the box - and conversational AI may be the solution they didn’t know they needed.
Breaking Down the Healthcare Talent Crisis
The healthcare talent shortage is not anything new, but many people are still unclear about how it came to be. After all, how could millions of physicians seemingly disappear? The peak of the shortage began with the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. An influx of patients overwhelmed hospitals and healthcare practices across the globe. Physicians worked around the clock to manage this influx, often risking their own health to treat patients.
This workload quickly overwhelmed physicians; as a result, when the pandemic slowed, many grew burnt out and left their roles. Unfortunately, this did not slow down the influx of patients, leaving the remaining physicians even more burnout.
Even today, years after the pandemic’s outbreak, practices still struggle with the talent shortage. Physician turnover is at an all-time high, making it near-impossible for healthcare businesses to maintain their workforce.
Plus, there are hundreds of patients who avoided seeing their provider during the height of the pandemic. Consequently, all of these individuals are now trying to seek care. Between caring for patients, scheduling appointments, filling prescriptions, and answering patient questions, physicians simply don’t have enough time in the day to effectively care for their patients - and their practices are suffering as a result.
So, what can healthcare practices do if onboarding new physicians isn’t a feasible solution? That’s where conversational AI comes in.
Conversational AI vs. Chatbots
Businesses worldwide have used chatbots for years to handle high volumes of consumer inquiries. Chatbots automate chats using scripted, pre-defined programming to communicate with humans. While this is beneficial in managing consumer interactions, it doesn’t do much to solve complex consumer problems. But - this is where conversational AI differs.
Unlike chatbots, conversational AI utilizes Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Natural Language Processing (NLP). This means that the virtual assistants are capable of understanding and responding to human language in a similarly human fashion.
This human-like understanding and communication are critical in healthcare as most consumers (patients) aren’t asking cookie-cutter questions. Instead, patients are seeking answers to their symptoms or inquiring whether or not an appointment is necessary. A basic chatbot cannot provide adequate answers to these inquiries, but conversational AI can.
Addressing the Shortage with Conversational AI
Applications of conversational AI in the healthcare industry can significantly improve patient outcomes, optimize operational efficiencies, and alleviate the workloads of healthcare professionals. In terms of the talent shortage, let’s dive in.
Answer Patient Questions
Perhaps the most evident application of conversational AI is to answer patient questions. Patients often have questions that need timely and specific answers, but don’t necessarily require a physician to be answered.
However, if speaking directly with healthcare personnel is the only way to get answers, patients have no choice but to call their provider. Plus, if these questions or concerns arise outside of business hours, patients are often stuck waiting hours or days for answers.
Answering questions in this format is inefficient for both parties and takes more time than it should. But, with conversational AI, these interactions can be significantly improved.
Conversational AI serves as a self-service method of answering questions. Patients can communicate with a virtual assistant to get the quick and accurate answers they need - without taking any time away from their providers. As providers are already spread too thin, having one less task (multiplied by each patient) on their plate makes a significant difference in their workload.
Automate Appointment Scheduling
Similar to answering FAQS, scheduling appointments is another somewhat tedious but necessary task that can take time away from healthcare workers’ day. Even if your practice has an online scheduling platform, many patients tend to call your office to make appointments.
Playing phone tag and stopping everything to answer a call is frustrating for both patients and providers, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Conversational AI can also automate and facilitate appointment scheduling.
Patients can simply respond that they want to schedule an appointment, and the virtual assistant will respond with various appointment times and physicians to choose from. What once may have taken multiple phone calls and back-and-forth calendar checking can now be done within seconds - saving time for everyone involved.
If patients need to reschedule or cancel an appointment, they can use their virtual assistant in the same way to do so seamlessly. The conversational AI can automatically remind patients of upcoming appointments and notify them if they need to bring specific documents or prescriptions. Consequently, their next appointment is started on the right foot, ensuring seamless operations and no wasted time.
Perform Medical Triaging
Consider how many times you have recognized symptoms and debated whether or not to go to the doctor. Often patients will search their symptoms online and rush to the doctor in a panic or ignore their symptoms altogether. Whatever the case, they aren’t getting personalized answers, so they either waste everyone’s time or don’t seek the care they need.
Conversational AI can eliminate this issue by performing remote medical triaging. Patients can share their symptoms, such as a fever or cough, with the virtual assistant. The assistant will then use its AI and NLP capabilities to assess the priority of care needed by the patient. It can then recommend that they schedule an appointment, seek care immediately, or remain at home.
Remote medical triaging such as this serves as a significant time and resource saver for physicians. As physicians are already stretched thin, having patients come in for each and every ailment can further overwhelm their resources.
But, with conversational AI, patients can be pre-vetted to ensure that if they are meeting with their physicians, it’s for a worthy reason. As a result, patients can get more accurate and efficient care while providers are relieved from an influx of patients with non-priority ailments.
The Time is Now to Address the Talent Shortage
Two years into the height of the healthcare talent shortage and it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. As patient demands continue to rise, practices need a long-lasting solution, and onboarding new personnel isn’t going to cut it.
Providers need a solution to support them in their workloads while also providing patients with the immediate and accurate attention they need. Fortunately, conversational AI can do precisely that.
Conversational AI can offer relief to physicians during the rising talent shortage, increasing their capacity to care for patients. With time-consuming administrative tasks, triaging, and FAQs out of the way, physicians can devote their time to improving operations and, thus, the patient experience. Consequently, healthcare providers and their practices can thrive today and in the future.
If you’re interested in learning about how DRUID’s conversational AI technologies can support your healthcare business, download our case study.