Digital Transformation



Navigating the potential for AI solutions with strategic partnerships

AI’s potential impact in healthcare will depend on strategic collaborations to develop advanced technologies to enhance care and alleviate clinician burnout.

The healthcare sector is quickly emerging as a vibrant canvas for artificial intelligence, as healthcare organizations flock to the latest innovations to overcome daunting operational challenges, such as workforce shortages and clinician burnout.

It’s exciting to see how far healthcare technology has come and to be at the helm of this revolutionary trend. But what does it take to succeed?

Having a clear mission

First, it takes a mission. Pursuing AI for the sake of hype and headlines will get you nowhere. You need to be thoughtful and deliberate in your approach. Recognizing the value and understanding where AI can have the most significant impact is essential.

AI can’t replace clinicians, nor should it. But what it can do is guide them, expedite many of their tedious tasks, and enable them to focus more attention on direct patient care. For example, when MEDITECH established a partnership with Google in 2021, that was the primary driver — to make life easier for clinicians using its records systems.

Mile Bluff Medical Center in Mauston, Wis., is witnessing firsthand the transformative potential of AI by embedding search and summarization capabilities powered by Google Health into their MEDITECH Expanse EHR. For Mile Bluff's clinicians, the daunting task of poring over volumes of patient records to extract nuggets of crucial information was a significant drain on their time. Physician assistant Randy Brandt painted a vivid picture of the ordeal — in one example, sifting through a staggering 150 pages of scanned documents to locate a single piece of critical information in treating a patient.

However, by leveraging AI, clinicians such as those at Mile Bluff now can turn the tide. Using intelligent search and summarization capabilities, clinicians can perform a simple search to retrieve essential information from structured and unstructured data within the patient records, saving time and boosting the accuracy of clinical decisions.

Recognizing stakeholders’ needs

While AI can be considered a disruptor, it should not be disruptive. There are important principles for attaining success for incorporating AI into clinical workflows. For example, one of the principles of the MEDITECH partnership with Google was to embed the functionality directly into a physician’s workflow. That’s important because requiring physicians to venture outside their workflows to get needed information will frustrate them. Success is dependent on the technology making their lives easier.

When clinician workflow is examined, the most significant time drain is documentation. So, there’s great benefit in using AI to compose documentation for clinicians – for example, if there are obvious benefits if AI can do the tedious legwork, sifting through the structured and unstructured data and only pulling forward what is critically important to tell the patient's story effectively.

That’s part of the reason why MEDITECH is working with Google Cloud to embed generative AI into clinical documentation, particularly at critical times like hospital discharges. The hospital course narrative often requires a time-consuming review of multiple days of multidisciplinary documentation, especially for patients with extended stays or high acuity levels.  Workflow can be improved by using AI to automatically generate an initial draft of this hospital course narrative that a clinician can review within the EMR.

While many AI applications can work effectively for nearly all health systems, certain organizations will have more specific needs, depending on their resources, internal readiness to change, IT infrastructure and individual pain points.

Certainly, there are many challenges facing organizations exploring current and emerging forms of AI technology within the healthcare market, where staffing limitations and strong financial headwinds are pointing healthcare systems toward solutions that improve efficiency and clinician satisfaction at a sustainable price point.

The rise of partnerships

AI is not a one-size-fits-all approach, and technology vendors are doing a better job looking at AI technology vendors that align with their missions and could serve as strong strategic partners. In MEDITECH’s case, it was already doing cloud development work with Google, which aligned with its vision for its records system, and it sought to take advantage of the popularity of Google’s search engine, which could be useful to search for information contained in the records system.

Beyond working on intelligent search and summarization capabilities, the partners intend to leverage Google’s expertise in large language models to auto-generate clinical documentation within workflows.

Other technologies on the horizon

However, other AI technology offerings have the potential to provide support to healthcare organizations, and the field is ripe with vendors working on promising developments.

There’s a lot of promise in the area of conversational AI, particularly when used in tandem with smartphones and other intelligent devices. For example, MEDITECH has worked with Nuance over the past couple years on a virtual assistant that’s intended to reduce clinician burnout by streamlining chart navigation and order placements via simple voice commands.

 Additionally, ambient listening technology can be used as a “digital scribe,” which could redefine the process of creating and approving clinical visit notes. Further, MEDITECH is partnering with Suki and may work with other ambient listening vendors to facilitate time savings and work reductions.

The ripple effects of these newfound efficiencies in AI are manifold. They lay the foundation for more meaningful patient-provider interactions and collaborative decision-making.  AI has the potential to achieve technologically empowered, patient-centric healthcare where human expertise and AI-driven intelligence converge to elevate the quality and efficacy of healthcare delivery.

Rachel Wilkes is director of marketing and corporate branding for MEDITECH, which announced new AI use cases at its leadership event in September. She is a Fellow of the American College of Health Data Management.

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