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Improving care and creating efficiencies

Are physicians ready to embrace digital technologies now?

EMERGING digital technologies, such as robotic process automation and artificial intelligence (AI), hold a great deal of promise to improve health care—better quality at a lower cost. Despite often negative past experience with electronic health records (EHRs),1 practicing physicians are generally hopeful that new technologies will make their work more efficient.

Our nationally representative survey of 680 primary care and specialty US physicians, fielded in January and February 2020, found that:

  • Seventy-three percent say that saving time and resources is expected to be the No.1 benefit of AI for the industry
  • Seventy-seven percent say that the biggest impact on their practices from automation would be in terms of efficiency
  • Seventy-six percent see the most opportunity for automation with coding for billing and reporting and with prior authorization requirements 
  • Fifty-four percent say that they would increase their use and support of AI-driven solutions if those solutions are shown to improve efficiencies and 52% would do so if they are shown to improve quality

Physicians do have concerns with emerging digital technologies, including the impact on patients and the reliability and accuracy of the technologies:

  • Forty-four percent are concerned about the negative impact on the physician-patient relationship, 42% are concerned about the increase in medical liability risk, and 40% are concerned about the negative impact on patient engagement from automation 
  • Sixty-nine percent ask who is liable when the technology makes a mistake

The COVID-19 pandemic caused technology adoption to rapidly accelerate as organizations implemented new digital tools, often taking risks with unproven technologies.2 Physicians, in turn, quickly learned and incorporated the new tools in their practice, including virtual visits, remote monitoring, and analytics. Now that physicians have experience with the rapid adoption of these new tools and have seen their benefits, organizations are poised to realize the potential of emerging technologies such as AI and automation.

Building from this momentum, new initiatives should capitalize on value and consider how digital technologies can improve efficiency and workflow and not negatively impact quality and patient relationships. Involving key physicians and physician leaders in the process, communicating the benefits, prioritizing efficiencies, and ensuring minimal disruption to physician workflow should alleviate these concerns.

Where should investments start? Executives should consider starting with low-hanging fruit—digital technologies that improve upon mundane tasks for physicians or activities that happen behind the scenes. Priorities should be on improving busy work and tasks that don’t add value for stakeholders. The benefit of prioritizing these activities for digital technology solutions is that implementation is simpler and critical customer interactions are not affected. The organization can then build momentum toward more complicated tasks and solutions.

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