Are A.I. and Physician Assistants The Future of Health Care?
It has become evident that there are shortages of nurses and physicians, and it’s expected to worsen in the next decade. Now that the health industry has been trying to shift to a value-based system instead of the current fee-for-service reimbursement model, a need for more skilled clinicians and better care for patients is even more relevant.
To make things easier and more efficient for health care professionals and their patients, hospitals are now turning to artificial intelligence tools such as chatbots and digital scribes. They are also increasingly using machine-learning models to predict readmission rates and examine mammograms.
As the sector is slowly integrating technology into their processes, tech giants are also trying to develop systems for the health care industry. Apple Inc., for one, is looking into improving the nursing workflow. Meanwhile, Google is testing the effectiveness of digital voice assistants in reducing the length of time doctors spend in inputting patient information into an e-health record.
Technology and the shift to a value-based system are now influencing how the care is delivered and what kind of clinician is administering it. Soon, a doctor may ask you questions about what you’re feeling right now, or they might be trained in coding. A physician assistant may be either human or virtual, while nurses may have robot assistants.
The dean of the Stanford University School of Medicine, Dr. Lloyd Minor, acknowledges the need to bring technology into how health care works. Much like how technology has transformed other industries in the economy, it can also transform how health care is delivered.
A decade ago, the federal government set aside incentives worth billions of dollars for electronic health records. However, there are still doctors’ offices and clinics asking patients to write down their health histories through the traditional pen-and-paper. Some still use fax machines as a form of communication.
Likewise, not much has changed in how today’s clinicians are being trained and how they interact with other clinicians. Physicians are usually still the ones making the decisions, prescribing drugs, and ordering tests. Nurses, pharmacists, and physician assistants remain viewed as supporting players.
Although, there have been changes in who gets to be the decision-maker. Some states that have been struggling with physician shortage now have laws allowing physician assistants and nursing practitioners to practice with less (or no) oversight from a physician.
However, groups like the American Medical Association and Physicians for Patient Protection have criticized this move as they think that physician oversight is important to maintain quality care. Scripps Research Translational Institute director Dr. Eric Topol believes that this is more about physicians having a hard time letting go of their tradition of control.
Several regions are experiencing a shortage in clinicians who can cater to the increasingly complex health care needs of the U.S. population. In the coming decade, experts predict a surge in demand not only for physicians but also for physician assistants as well as advanced practice and registered nurses. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for physician assistants will see a 31% rise. Meanwhile, the demand for nurse practitioners and registered nurses will jump by 26% and 12%, respectively. Doctors will also have an increase in demand by 7%.
With the advent of new technology and a stronger inclination toward providing better yet affordable patient care, another trend that will emerge in this decade is a more flexible care delivery. The new tech is expected to free up clinicians’ time so that they can give more hands-on care to their patients.
Nursing innovation expert Bonnie Clipper, who works as the chief clinical officer of health care employee performance platform Wombi, says that the goal that they’re working on is to achieve improved outcomes, enhanced efficiency, and better price points while providing better human interactions.
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