Years after the first cases of Covid-19 were reported in the U.S., the healthcare industry continues to feel the impact. Hospitals and health systems have been on the front lines of the pandemic since day one and still struggle with shortages of skilled clinicians, overworked staff and financial losses. A February 2022 report from the American College of Healthcare Executives found that labor shortages ranked first on the list of community hospital CEOs’ top concerns, and a 2022 report by patient safety organization ECRI ranked staff shortages first among the top risks to patient safety.
For hospitals and health system executives looking to recruit more clinical staff and retain current staff, they need to embrace and implement modernized technology designed to minimize workloads and allow medical professionals to focus on patient care.
The promise of AI in healthcare
The healthcare industry has begun to embrace technology to help solve its staffing strain. This was most apparent during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. At a time when staff was low and the virus was rampant, hospitals and health systems turned to technology – from using telemedicine to reach patients, to leveraging ultraviolet light emitting robots to quickly destroy microorganisms found in patient hospital rooms, public restrooms, and operating rooms.
Artificial intelligence has become a common feature in many healthcare technologies, yet AI still has a negative reputation among many in the industry. This may be due to the hesitation from some medical professionals who fear that it will replace their jobs. A recent Medscape survey of 1,500 doctors found that most physicians are anxious or uncomfortable with AI and nearly one in three physicians believe their role could be threatened by AI software.
While AI could never replace a physician, the technology has been shown to complement and enhance a physician’s expertise. The same Medscape survey found that most physicians (70%) said AI-powered software would help to make more accurate decisions and 66% said they would likely consider using AI-powered software if it were better than humans at some diagnostic tasks. There should be no doubt that AI provides value to the industry by assisting clinicians in performing many responsibilities quicker and more accurately, ultimately helping to improve quality of care. Additionally, some technologically driven or robotic-assisted devices are built so that they can be used by a lab technician, allowing more patients to benefit from a robotic-guided evaluation and resulting diagnostic benefit.
Robotics and automation
With the erratic surges of Covid-19 variants, healthcare professionals are overworked, burned out, and leaving the profession in droves. According to a Medscape study, the physician burnout rate in 2020 was 42% and the World Health Organization estimates a projected shortage of 18 million health workers by 2030.
Advanced technologies, such as AI-guided robotics and automation, offer a potential solution to the provider shortage by freeing healthcare professionals from repetitive and time-consuming tasks and allow clinicians to focus on tasks that require a specialized touch. Robotics have been used in various facets of healthcare, ranging from execution of administrative tasks, to assisting with surgeries, to sanitizing hospital rooms. Additionally, a study found the use of robotic-assisted ultrasound systems allowed for isolation and distance between patients and sonographers during the pandemic, reducing the risk of transmission. Robots have been an established and integral part of the healthcare industry for many years and will continue to help enhance patient care long into the future.
Innovations in ultrasound
In recent years, ultrasound technology has rapidly progressed in addressing the vulnerability of operator reliance and mobility. From innovations such as Wi-Fi enabled devices to portable ultrasound devices that can be leveraged at the bedside or in the operating room, ultrasound innovations provide improved patient access. Additionally, AI-powered ultrasound devices help reduce burden and increase efficiency for the medical professionals performing the exam by guiding placement or location for every patient. This has a positive impact on the healthcare industry as it presents the opportunity for facilities to see and scan more patients, confidently.
One type of technology that combines AI, robotics and automation is autonomous robotic ultrasound. Even though transcranial Doppler (TCD) ultrasound is one of the most valuable tools for monitoring brain circulation, clinicians rarely use TCD because it is highly operator dependent, with the handheld technique requiring lengthy training and expert knowledge. A skilled sonographer must focus on finding the patient’s transtemporal window and detecting the proper vessel based on their position, angle, and depth. With a handheld device, this takes time, experience, and expertise. Thus, TCD use is limited.
Recent clinical trial data presented at the International Stroke Conference compared clinician use of robotic-assisted TCD versus non-robotic technology and found clinicians who employed robotic TCD were three times more likely to identify serious cardiac issues that were completely missed standard of care imaging. Regardless of the diagnostic tool, technology use should not be limited due to lack of skilled professionals with the knowledge of how to best use it. With the incorporation of AI and automation, autonomous robotic assisted-TCD can be leveraged as a sophisticated diagnostic tool that many more healthcare professionals can use without the rigorous training.
Robotics, AI, and automation will continue to advance within healthcare over the next several years. Harnessing these technologies can help the industry improve patient care and increase operational efficiencies.
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