AI-Enhanced Telehealth: Hope or Hype?
ChatGPT and a plethora of other AI-powered applications are rapidly gaining popularity in today’s tech-driven world. In healthcare, AI and machine learning algorithms are being adopted to drive efficiency in patient-facing and back-office settings alike.
One of the clinical frontiers gaining attention is the augmentation of virtual care programs with AI tools such as computer vision, ambient clinical intelligence, and contactless monitoring. By bringing these AI enhancements into virtual workflows in the inpatient setting, healthcare organizations hope to positively impact patient safety, clinical outcomes, care team experience, and operational performance.
During a recent fireside chat, Caregility President and COO Mike Brandofino sat down with Healthcare Innovation editor Mark Hagland to explore the practicality, best practices, and perils associated with selecting and adopting AI technology to advance telehealth.
AI’s Potential in Acute Virtual Encounters
AI is showing promise in clinical use cases in acute care settings where staffing shortages and burnout are prominent. As Brandofino sees it, one of AI’s biggest benefits is in “augmenting the information that a clinician or caregiver has access to with more clinical insight than they’d be able to gather on their own.” When evaluating tools, he encourages stakeholders to consider the impact: “Is it taking tasks away that can potentially save staff time? Is it a tool that adds to productivity?”
One of the AI functions Brandofino sees potential in is radar-based contactless monitoring. These tools continuously capture patient vitals such as heart rate and breathing rate, as well as track motion in the room. This allows caregivers to see trends over time.
“The AI part of that is the algorithms can detect changes in that pattern that mean something,” Brandofino explains. He offers a practical use case example. “That radar device can tell you, based on telemetry, that a patient is starting to wake up. Now think of a post-op situation where the nurses have to be there when the patient wakes up disoriented. Can you just have a contactless device notify them when the patient is starting to wake up so they can get in there then instead of sitting there for 30 minutes waiting?”
Automated, contactless vitals monitoring also accelerates the frequency and timeliness of clinical documentation.
“If you think about what happens with nurses as they do their rounds and take vital signs, many times they don’t get that information into the EHR until the end of their shift or hours later,” Brandofino notes. AI tools can gather vital signs many times throughout the day and put it through an algorithm to evaluate if the patient is getting better or worse. This allows care teams to intervene earlier and potentially improve outcomes.
Ambient clinical intelligence uses AI tools like natural language processing to draft clinical notes and reports, posing similar efficiency benefits. In care environments where resources are thin and burnout is high, those incremental time savings can add up.
Caveats to Consider When Adopting Health AI
As you evaluate AI solutions to bring into patient care delivery, it’s important not to become enamored with the technology before understanding where it fits into the patient care workflow. Brandofino recommends including all stakeholders—clinical, IT, and operations—in evaluations. “How are you going to support your device fleet? Consider the clinical workflow as well as the experience on the patient side.”
“Think about the operational logistics of supporting what you’re doing,” Brandofino advises. “What we suggest to our customers is to understand the impact that you’re going to have on the staff on the floor and think about what that is going to be like at scale.” Nurses are some of the most interrupted people in healthcare. The last thing you want to do is introduce new tools that add to their stress level, whether that be an overabundance of false alarms or device overload.
Given the newness of many AI tools entering the market, it’s also important to consider who you’re partnering with. Has the tool been implemented in one or two patient rooms or thousands of rooms? Are there examples of in-market success that can offer a roadmap?
Combining AI and Telehealth to Empower Caregivers
By integrating AI with virtual care, healthcare organizations can modernize care delivery with innovative new tools and keep the human element of care intact. AI can drive intelligent clinical alerting, while virtual engagement channels serve as a bridge for immediate staff intervention. When combined, these resources amplify what virtual teams are capable of supporting remotely, doubling down on reducing the burdens on bedside staff.
“We believe that combining that remote nurse with smart technology to help gather telemetry in the room will be really impactful in improving care for patients in the long term,” says Brandofino. “Don’t feel like you have to put in a siloed solution just to get access to AI technology. Look for players that are capable of integrating with what you already have. If you already have high-end cameras and mics in the room with edge processing, what else can you gather in the patient room to give to caregivers?”
Ultimately, healthcare organizations that focus on applying technologies that solve real problems that exist today around the shortage of nurses, productivity, and quality of life for staff will have the most impact.
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