Digital a large piece in global workforce puzzle – but not the whole picture

One of the things to cause most sleepless nights and collective head-scratching in the healthcare industry over recent years has been the global workforce crisis. 

Pre-pandemic it was already chronic, with countries at all stages of development experiencing critical imbalances between the demand and supply of essential frontline healthcare workers. But COVID stretched systems even further, exacerbating existing challenges of burnout, mental health issues and widespread worker resignations. This has only been aggravated post-pandemic. 

Among solutions mooted have been increasing salaries, improving pay equity and working conditions and creating more professional development opportunities. Many, however, see the only lasting solution in the smart use of technology – and in particular artificial intelligence (AI). 

One of these advocates is biomedical engineer Maria González Manso, CEO and co-founder of Spanish AI start-up Tucuvi.

“In my opinion, AI is the most critical tool that will redefine healthcare delivery and ensure widespread access to care,” says Manso, who is giving an address on digital solutions to combat staff stress and burnout at the HIMSS23 European Health Conference and Exhibition (7-9 June) in Lisbon.

“One of the primary challenges we observed through our earlier work in the industry was the significant gaps in care delivery and the lack of time healthcare teams had to engage with patients — to truly listen, understand and check on their wellbeing.

“While there have been attempts to address this time constraint using traditional telemedicine or mobile apps, these solutions fall short. They still rely on a doctor or nurse being present on the other side of the screen, limiting scalability of the healthcare workforce. This is a critical issue that needs to be addressed urgently – and AI is key to this.” 

Reducing the burden on clinicians 

Tucuvi’s AI-based virtual medical assistant, LOLA, makes calls to elderly users, providing them with continuous care and monitoring. By ‘speaking naturally’ with patients over the phone, LOLA can free up healthcare professionals from routine tasks such as post-surgery follow-ups and chronic condition monitoring. This gives them more time, allowing them to focus their attention on patients who require their expertise and provides them with structured and prioritised data. 

Manso believes that AI can revolutionise life for over-stretched healthcare professionals. “It can help them become exceptional practitioners and to provide better, faster, and more personalised care. By delegating routine tasks to AI, healthcare professionals can invest their time in delivering high-quality care and addressing the complex needs of their patients.”

Tucuvi claims to have served more than 17,000 patients and has worked on more than eight different pathologies. In November 2022, Tucuvi raised €5.5 million from the European Commission (EC) in the framework of the EIC Accelerator. 

Keeping things simple

For another HIMSS23 Europe speaker, Dr Amy Compton-Phillips of patient survey firm Press Ganey – who will present on simplifying health and care on Friday, 9 June – though tech and AI are useful aids to help resolve the workforce crisis, they are secondary to the changes that need to be made at a human level. 

“The reason I’m talking about simplifying health and care and not using technology to simplify health and care is because that is how I think we need to tackle things,” says Compton-Phillips, who is both President and CCO at the US company and has worked as a doctor for 30 years. “For those of us on the front lines, it often feels like the technology is put before resolving the actual need.”

With the global healthcare worker shortage, Compton-Phillips challenges us to start simple. “It’s a bit like global warming – it’s a big area and a big problem. There’s not one thing that you do to resolve it. We need an accumulation of many solutions. And I think it’s the same with the global workforce situation. You need an accumulation of many things to help resolve the complexity for the workflows that exist within it.

“I like to quote HIMSS CEO Hal Wolf on this. He says, ‘new tech + old organisation = costly old organisation’. Tech can add cost and complexity. First simplify and make it better.

“What’s happened over those 30 years I’ve had as a doctor is that the caregiver and the patient have got further and further and further apart. As we’ve put more receptionists and put more EMRs and people doing coding and compliance and network management and pre-authorisation – and then, all of a sudden, in between those two you have a huge array of hurdles that you have to jump over before you can get that relationship.

So in my mind the best tech has the capacity to move all that stuff to the background and bring that doctor or nurse and the patient closer together.”

Dr Amy Compton-Phillips speaks on Simplifying Health and Care and Maria Gonzalez Manso speaks on Digital Solutions to Combat Staff Stress and Burnout at the HIMSS23 European Health Conference and Exhibition.

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