Can AI Improve Patient Safety?

While most hospitals don’t use artificial intelligence (AI) or machine learning for safety and quality workflows today, AI holds the potential to be a game-changer in patient safety and risk management. Tools such as incident management, complaints registration, satisfaction surveys, and audits that contribute to enterprise-wide strategic objectives in safety and quality could benefit from artificial intelligence.

It has never been more important for your organization to demonstrate its commitment to safety for patients and staff alike—and there has never been a more promising time for the software and technology available to help. In non-healthcare industries for example, more companies are opting for AI chatbots as part of their customer service teams, and IT help desks are using artificial intelligence to correlate incoming incidents with configuration items stored in a configuration management database to correctly route the incident to subject matter experts and for incident investigation and root cause analysis. 

This article looks at the potential ways implementing the latest artificial intelligence technologies are likely to help healthcare organizations improve patient safety and outcomes, reduce liability, safeguard revenue, improve workforce morale, and more in the not-too-distant future.

What’s the difference between automation, digitization, and artificial intelligence?

The terms automation and digitization are often used interchangeably with artificial intelligence, and all refer to technologies designed to improve the efficiency of various tasks. However, they aren’t the same.

Automation refers to creating software or hardware that can automatically perform certain tasks without the need for human intervention. Typically, automation is used to perform repetitive tasks, like data entry.

On the other hand, artificial intelligence is the science of making machines that “think.” AI engineers and scientists are attempting to make software that can mimic human reasoning and intelligence. Data science technology can assess a unique set of factors and data points, analyze that information, and make dynamic decisions, including clinical decision support.

How AI is used in healthcare today

There are several subtypes of AI in healthcare. These include machine learning, natural language processing (NLP), rule-based expert systems, diagnosis/treatment applications, and administrative applications.

  • Machine learning is perhaps the most common type of AI in healthcare. This technology is primarily used in the field of precision medicine.
  • NLP systems are also becoming the norm in healthcare. NLP programs have text analysis and speech-recognition capabilities.
  • Rule-based expert systems are designed to perform process automation. This type of AI in healthcare was commonplace in past decades, but is being phased out in exchange for machine learning, as the latter is a more effective solution.

Benefits of AI in healthcare 

The application of AI in the healthcare industry yields tremendous benefits. It’s used in various fields and specialties including robotic-assisted surgery, administrative workflows, fraud detection, identification of prescription errors, image diagnosis, and cybersecurity.

The advantages of AI technology are extensive in both clinical practice and healthcare operations and include:

  •     Mitigation of the risks of overdosing and other safety measures
  •     Monitoring of a patient’s adherence to prescription medication protocols
  •     Increased patient satisfaction and improvement of the patient experience
  •     Reduced care costs and patient premiums
  •     Improved data security
  •     Faster claims processing
  •     Better employee morale

In addition, facilities can reduce administrative costs, streamline the revenue cycle, and strengthen their reputation. A recent study even looked at how artificial intelligence systems can be used to sort through electronic health records (EHRs).

Ways AI can improve patient safety 

Directing internal and external processes in a manner that improves patient safety is extremely challenging. While providing a superior patient care experience requires a multifaceted approach that leverages the latest technologies, AI in healthcare—including incident management—could resolve many of the issues that your organization faces on a daily basis.

AI in the healthcare industry could improve patient safety in numerous ways:

Streamlining the patient experience

The use of artificial intelligence in healthcare could allow your facility to streamline the patient care experience. AI solutions would assist the care team in providing efficient and targeted treatment. They have the ability to rapidly access essential patient data and make treatment decisions based on that information.

The end result? Patients could receive prompt and necessary treatment, even when the facility has a high influx of clients.

Providing algorithms for prospective risk analyses

There are multiple options for analyzing incidents once they occur—including a systems approach or a person approach, with either accomplished using a retrospective or prospective analysis. AI algorithms could hold the key to improving prospective risk analyses, to help us better understand how systems or processes can fail. This knowledge can be used to anticipate potential errors and incidents, learn from them when they do occur, and mitigate the dangers they pose to patient safety in the future. 

Improving the care continuum

By streamlining the check-in, care, and billing processes, your organization could drastically improve the patient journey. Over time, the patient goes through various parts of the system, depending on the phase of the treatment or the need for care. For example, healthcare provider organizations shepherd a patient from preventive care, through medical incidents, rehabilitation, and maintenance.

It’s important for a healthcare provider to evolve care with the patient over time, to ensure quality, and to fill any care gaps. Hospitals and health systems recognize that a patient's health may be vulnerable or negatively impacted during gaps in care and during transitions (e.g., to a home or post-acute facility). Use of artificial intelligence would help monitor the patient journey, and patients would have a more positive outlook on your organization, which will improve your brand reputation.

Using AI, patients also could experience fewer treatment delays due to insurance processing or long wait times. In turn, this will improve patient outcomes and safety for health systems.

Aiding in precision medicine applications

The use of artificial intelligence in precision medicine promises to revolutionize healthcare by improving clinician decision making through augmented intelligence. Studies show that these applications combined could offer medical professionals the ability to tailor preventative care and/or treatment and interventions to each individual patient.

Aiding in medication adherence applications

Medication adherence applications using AI could be used in-house to ensure that medical professionals appropriately administer all physician-prescribed medications to the patient. These apps not only would provide reminders and tracking capabilities but can also alert staff of potential drug interaction concerns.

While there are many such applications available, it’s vital for your organization to use one designed specifically for treatment providers. Ideally, you should leverage custom-designed patient safety solutions from a proven development firm. 

The future of AI in healthcare and patient safety

When it comes to AI in healthcare and incident management, the future is bright. In just months or years—not decades—healthcare professionals could begin to adopt advancements that already enable AI to streamline workflows in other industries.

When it comes time for your healthcare organization to evaluate AI in healthcare, remember that one name is synonymous with safety, quality, and innovation. Through symplr Quality (and The Patient Safety Company internationally), we partner with payer and provider organizations worldwide, providing them with cutting-edge healthcare safety, quality, and risk management software. We help them automate redundant processes, improve data collection practices, analyze and report more efficiently, and learn how to enhance the patient care experience.

Learn more about our solutions for healthcare professionals and healthcare operations staff. 

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