Healthcare 2018: Can AI Restore the Family Doctor Experience?

Healthcare consumers are increasingly wondering: Where has the family doctor gone?

In the U.S., the supply of generalists has long trailed the supply of specialists. There’s a significant and growing shortage of primary care physicians. And in many parts of the world, the number of physicians per 1,000 people sits at or close to zero.

At the same time, the business model of medicine is changing. Group medical practices have outpaced traditional family practices, which some would argue has created a highly impersonal environment. As more doctors opt for hospital employment, the patient relationship—a distinguishing benefit of family medicine—is at risk. More patients are feeling like numbers instead of people with individual needs and preferences.

AI Can Help Restore the Human Touch

I certainly don’t mean robots will replace human practitioners. That’s not where we are, although much ink has been spilled on other ways that artificial intelligence (AI) is transforming the healthcare industry—a key trend that I believe will continue in 2018. Cognitive solutions are, for example, supporting diagnosis and treatment, guiding management of chronic diseases and preventing waste and fraud in the delivery of care.

Despite these exciting developments, value of care—customer service—not quality of clinical care is top of patients’ minds. Patients—end recipients, if you will—report significant friction dealing with doctors, group medical practices, clinics and hospitals. Pain points include poor communication, long wait times, and a general lack of interest in making sure they’re viewed as unique individuals. In other words, symptoms of the loss of old-school private practitioners.

But AI-powered patient connectivity could restore some balance. Suppose AI mapped appointments to the physician’s current schedule. Suppose AI anticipated the need for an appointment, then booked it according to observed patient preferences. Suppose AI matched patients with the appropriate physician, based on the physician’s track record in treating similar patients with that specific condition—then, at the right moment, reminded the doctor of exactly who the patient is.

Fortunately, there’s no need to speculate. The technology to enable all this is here and available now, and I believe another big trend will be its increasing use for improved customer experience in the healthcare environment.

Modern Providers can Distinguish Themselves with AI-Enabled Connectivity

Patients want the benefits of a holistic, patient-centric care approach to their care. For better or for worse, patient churn is the new norm in healthcare. A major driver? The skyrocketing cost of healthcare, which patients bear via premiums, deductibles and copays. The result is that patients are starting to manage their healthcare decisions proactively. They’re demanding transparency, accountability and a level of service commensurate with their real and perceived costs. If they don’t get these things, they’ll take their business elsewhere—including offshore.

Healthcare distribution and delivery have changed. Maybe we can’t turn back the clock, but we surely don’t have to accept dropped calls, handoff issues and a distant, transactional connection to the vulnerable humans seeking care. In an era of increasing specialization and fragmentation, healthcare providers can put AI in service to assure patients that, even today, they come first in the firmament of modern medicine.