The healthcare industry plays an essential role in our society. Without the professionals that apply skill and dedication to their roles in this sector, our population would have shorter and far less comfortable lives. Yet, it’s no secret that there is a significant labor shortage in healthcare. This isn’t just an issue of attracting staff to roles, either. Retaining staff is also a problem, with facilities in the public and private sectors of healthcare experiencing high rates of turnover.
The underlying causes of the labor shortage need to be urgently addressed. This involves giving certain workers the salary and support they need to thrive. It also means reducing the unnecessary pressure that leads so many professionals toward burnout. However, it’s also worth considering how technology can be used to lighten the burden on staff and navigate the effects of turnover.
Let’s take a look at some of the new healthcare tech that is being used to mitigate labor shortages.
Chatbots have become a familiar presence in the digital landscape. Most people will be familiar with their use as part of the online retail space. Businesses have largely been utilizing them to improve the customer experience and free up human staff members for more detailed tasks. However, this type of artificial intelligence (AI) is increasingly finding a place in the healthcare industry in ways that can mitigate labor shortages.
In some ways, the approach for medical purposes isn’t much different from other sectors. It’s less a dispensary for expert diagnoses than an automated, symptom-filter system. Chatbots are the first stop for patients in the care system to make for a more efficient triage process. Patients answer questions posed by the software on details of their symptoms, lifestyle elements, and some medical history. This information is then used to both provide patients with simple advice and to pass it on to medical professionals for use during following appointments.
It may seem like a small step, but when utilized effectively, these AI-driven chatbots can free up significant time and energy for doctors and nurses. When automated software can take care of the initial contact, it removes a certain amount of pressure from human professionals. Particularly at a time of serious labor shortage, this can reduce the cumulative stress and overwork that can lead to burnout.
The COVID-19 pandemic transpired to be something of a proving ground for telemedicine. At a time in which it was imperative to minimize physical gatherings, it helped reduce the dangers of congested waiting rooms. Importantly, it also demonstrated to skeptical patients that they can still get a high level of care from virtual appointments. Elderly patients also found telemedicine user-friendly to navigate. We’re now seeing it can continue to be a tool to mitigate the impact of labor shortages.
In general, telemedicine appointments represent a more efficient approach to most general consultations. There isn’t a need for staff to prepare and sterilize examination rooms. Patients don’t need to travel around the premises, which reduces the amount of time between appointments. In essence, professionals are able to attend to a larger number of appointments than they would in traditional circumstances. This requires fewer healthcare professionals on staff at one time.
This doesn’t mean telemedicine is entirely replacing in-person appointments. But, the technology has reached a point at which more types of basic consultations and check-ups can be performed virtually. Even post-surgery consultations are being conducted remotely. This is the result of more accessible high-resolution cameras available to patients alongside more secure and usable telehealth platforms. The prevalence and affordability of everyday wearable devices also make remotely monitoring patients more effective.
The Internet of Medical Things (IOMT)
The internet of things (IoT) has become a prevalent part of our current culture. It refers to the ecosystem of passive and active connected devices that interact with one another. For the most part, people are most familiar with how this applies to smart home systems and their personal collection of mobile devices. Nevertheless, there is also a growing presence of industrial devices that are building and supporting the internet of medical things (IoMT).
The IoMT is a collection of devices and software that use sensors to collect and share vital data. For instance, sensors are being attached to devices in ambulances to create smart ambulance systems (SAS). These systems in the IoMT collect vital patient medical information in transit, which can reduce the time it takes for patients to receive the care they need. From a labor shortage perspective, this automated data retrieval and sharing may reduce the number of staff required to conduct initial assessments on arrival at the hospital. Key patient condition measurables are received by the facility in real-time while the patient is still in transit.
It’s important to recognize, though, that devices in the IoMT sharing such vast volumes of sensitive patient data represents a significant security risk in healthcare. This is especially challenging when there isn’t enough conversation between medical professionals and security teams surrounding how devices are used. One of the key IoMT tools being used to reduce these risks is AI-driven cybersecurity systems. These automatically perform analyses, provide full visibility of network activities, and allow real-time detection of threats. As a result, fewer expert information technology (IT) staff are required to handle security threats. It also means breaches cause less disruption to already-stretched medical staff.
Robotics in the medical field is gradually becoming a practical element of care today. Surgical robots have been part of the sector for some time, though these don’t remove much pressure from surgeons or theater support staff. Rather, robots are being developed, and some are adapted, to minimize the time healthcare workers spend on repetitive but essential tasks.
Among the key examples here at the moment are autonomous mobile robots (AMRs). These machines are being used to take care of medication delivery, disinfection duties, and some porter activities around facilities. These healthcare robots are increasingly reliable as they’re fitted with light detection and ranging (LiDAR) technology, which, alongside data analysis software, can accurately map facilities in real time. This enables AMRs to accurately navigate their surroundings and perform jobs assigned remotely by hospital staff.
The healthcare labor shortage is already having an impact on patients and professionals alike. Technology can help to mitigate some aspects of this. This includes making triage more efficient and sharing real-time patient data from ambulances. Telehealth is also streamlining appointment practices to minimize the burden on professionals. Robots continue to be a positive presence, too, through automating essential but repetitive tasks. This isn’t to say technology is taking over the jobs of talented workers. Rather, these tools are collaborators with human staff in ways that reduce pressure and stress caused by and contribute to shortages.