The scheduling system used by my GP is antiquated at best. To book what is usually a telephone appointment you have to phone the practice up−and it needs to be immediately on opening if you are to have any chance of a phone consultation on the same day, patients are given vague appointment times (e.g. sometime in the afternoon), there is no reminder system and if an appointment is missed there is no prompt for the patient or the GP to reschedule. Furthermore, there is also no way of accessing personal data, test results, appointment times or any other personal health information without phoning the GP and using precious administrative time. While other practices may use slightly different systems, when I see more advanced scheduling systems in anything from booking a yoga class to a bike repair, the sorry state of our healthcare system becomes clear.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic healthcare systems across the world have struggled to meet demands. Many individuals face long waiting times for GP appointments and waiting lists are even longer to be seen by a specialist. The growing backlog for accessing a GP appointment is a worldwide concern:
“[In the US the] average wait to get in to see a new physician was 21 days … people in Portland, Boston and Minneapolis are facing the longest average wait times at 45.6 days, 33.8 days, and 30.8 days respectively.”
Long waiting times endangers patients by letting illnesses go undiagnosed for longer and leaves a patient in pain and discomfort for weeks. As for the long-term effects, it also creates a lack of faith in the healthcare system. This lack of faith means less patients go to get checked up and wait till their condition worsens before being seen, placing an even greater strain on resources.
We have previously discussed how AI technologies can improve prevention (by making us more independent in managing our health), detection and treatment. In this blog, we will discuss how something as simple as modernizing the scheduling and administration system could relieve some of the burden faced by healthcare providers.
Even the smallest changes such as reminding patients of their appointments can make a huge difference in diminishing the time and money wasted in no-show appointments. Some GP practices have these reminder services but not all clinics are covered, each clinic has a different provider or system that they use. Thus, the significant variation in digital maturity is a big problem both in the UK and beyond. Studies have shown that using one system for an entire country is not preferable, but if each area is using different systems then they should all attain a base level of digital maturity and variation between them should not be significant.
A more all-encompassing service and change would be that of using a Large Language Models (LLM) as a form of virtual assistant that could solve some of the challenges posed by administrative and scheduling issues across healthcare. Chatbots are already being created that: answer patient queries, provide relevant information, assisting in scheduling appointments, manage reminders, manage a patient’s health information and guide them through a treatment plan prescribed by the doctor. Not only do these chatbots decrease resources and costs involved in manual referral processes and administration. But they are also better equipped to solve complex appointment conflicts, faster resolution of queries and concerns and the ability to devote more time to guiding and informing the patient.
Of course, the success of this technological integration requires quality training data to be available and used, investment in training professionals to work alongside this technology, controls for assessing risks at the experimentation phase and automated warnings to remind users that models should not replace expert clinical consultation. It should also be noted that chatbots, like humans, often struggle to differentiate between reliable and unreliable sources of information.
Improving the scheduling system using AI won’t fix all of the problems present in our healthcare systems today, but it can improve the efficiency and delivery of primary care. Ensuring digital maturity is attained across all practices and sectors is an important goal to keep in mind when modernizing the healthcare system. Particularly, as the future of health lies in combining the power of technology and human ingenuity.
Written by Celene Sandiford, smartR AI