The impact of Covid-19 has led to tremendous staffing challenges across the global healthcare industry. Whether it’s doctors, nurses, or administrative staff, the occupational distress from the pandemic has resulted in staff burnout and an understaffed sector.
“There’s a shortage of 50,000 healthcare providers in family medicine within the US and roughly 1,400 in the state of North Carolina alone,” says Dr Kent Locklear, chief medical officer at Lightbeam Health Solutions. “This is a significant shortage of family doctors, who provide primary care to patients. And if you’ve got these primary care shortages, it really ramps up the stress on the existing practitioners.”
Physicians are also struggling to keep up with the exploding amount of data that they now have to consider to improve patient care. The healthcare industry generates and uses vast quantities of data each day. If healthcare organisations do not invest in ways to access and process that information, physician performance and patient outcomes will be drastically affected. This, alongside the transition from fee-for-service to value-based care, is adding to workforce pressures.
“The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has stated that by 2030, they want all Medicare recipients to be in a value-based programme such as Medicare Advantage or an Accountable Care Organization model,” says Locklear. “So, from a physician perspective, this will involve a big shift in how they work, including individuals’ understanding of new database driven care management and analytics models and the importance of having the technological infrastructure in place to do so.”
According to Locklear, value-based care is not yet equally distributed across the US and there are some regions that are much further behind than others. There is also an increase in efforts to promote health equity with the aim to reduce the differences in healthcare outcomes between affluent individuals and those who have more socially vulnerable circumstances.
“Better-off patients have an easier time accessing healthcare because they can both afford to pay for the care and typically have more robust support systems, while those that are less fortunate often lose their way within the healthcare system,” says Locklear. “Practitioners with access to modern, data driven tools and outputs can access more complete information about their patients – including data on their community and living conditions – to better guide how they are cared for. These technologies consider all the different vulnerabilities out there and presents the information in a way that practitioners can use to provide the highest possible level of healthcare.”
This allows healthcare providers to better engage with patients, for example, by using secure texting to send check-up reminders to encourage them to seek health advice or to receive information on a change in the patients’ health status.
Lightbeam automates data management for healthcare providers and organisations by aggregating large volumes of data within Microsoft Azure and using artificial intelligence and machine learning to efficiently process the information and make it meaningful and actionable for practitioners.
“AI and ML models take all these different inputs and make inferences to distil information down into something that is understandable and useful,” says Locklear. “It also helps to recognise patterns in the data and use intelligence to predict, from a clinical standpoint, if a patient may be at risk.
“For example, cancer screenings and chronic disease management are very important, and the average patient may or may not really understand where they fit into those different initiatives at different points in their life.
“There are similar milestones once patients begin to have healthcare issues such as diabetes or cardiovascular disease. So, it’s important to address potential care gaps with sophisticated technology by automating the data processing and resulting downstream activities in an effort to take some of that burden off the providers.”
By automating the data-analysis process, identifying patients with rising risk and facilitating engagement, technology can assist healthcare providers to keep people out of expensive – and often inefficient – care venues like the emergency room or overnight hospital stays. “Many of those expensive episodes can be avoided if we proactively reach out to patients rather than wait for them to contact us with a health concern,” adds Locklear. “If we catch changes in medical status in advance, we can change the trajectory of their clinical condition. AI and ML gives us the insights and actionable opportunities necessary to affect the clinical trajectory for patients with less occupational burden.”
This article was originally published in the Spring 2023 issue of Technology Record. To get future issues delivered directly to your inbox, sign up for a free subscription.