How technology can help the NHS as it embraces ‘the new normal’

patient services
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Dr Simon Wallace, chief clinical information officer, Nuance, discusses the challenges of reimaging patient services for the ‘new normal’ and the continued importance of enabling the most efficient process of clinical documentation

Over the last six months, the COVID-19 crisis has changed many aspects of life as we knew it. How we socialise, how we work, even how we access healthcare has seen a shift. With cases reportedly once again on the rise, the future still remains uncertain. One thing that we can be sure of is that this difficult time must be managed delicately in order to try and avoid putting additional pressure on the NHS.

In recent weeks, the NHS has started re-opening some non-essential services – many of which were put on hold during the first months of the pandemic in order to prioritise those with COVID-19 and reduce further potential transmission of the virus. From outpatient appointments to occupational and physiotherapy services, many of these services are now returning – albeit in an either socially distanced or even remote guise.

This change in service delivery – especially the shift to teleconsultation – will undoubtedly require a rethink from leaders in terms of how they enable staff to deliver the same outcomes for patients. While the likes of Microsoft Teams, Zoom and other software may be considered for remote video consultations, Trusts should consider deploying additional tech to support clinicians as they document patient records, both during and following sessions – to ensure they spend less time compiling clinical documentation and more time providing patient care.

From physical to digital

Delivering virtual patient consultations and therapy sessions isn’t easy, as I’m sure many clinicians will attest. You don’t get the same nuances from patients as you would within a face-to-face interaction. Even on video, some of this engagement is lost. This problem will be further exacerbated if clinicians are also forced to scribble or type lengthy notes during such sessions. They’ll be likely to lose eye contact with the patient and quality of care could be negatively impacted.

We need to act now to ensure this isn’t the case, remedying the pain imposed by excessive administrative and documentation requirements. We need to support our NHS staff as well as looking to re-humanise the patient experience – even when it is across digital channels – by providing solutions that support the clinician-patient relationship in these times of heightened anxiety. The deployment of AI is one way to alleviate this building burden; to help save time, and boost productivity for healthcare professionals now and in the future.

Technology such as AI-powered speech recognition can play an important role in enabling doctors to provide the first-class services their patients are used to in more traditional face-to-face settings – while also ensuring the healthcare professionals aren’t burnt out by the process of the necessary clinical documentation.

Taking technology forward

Speech recognition streamlines and simplifies the clinical documentation process – enabling the doctor to compile accurate and complete patient notes just through speech. We speak around three times faster than we type and, with an AI-powered solution, there is very high accuracy – much higher than when we type. Using your voice is a more natural and efficient way to capture the complete patient story, it can also speed up navigation in the electronic patient record system, helping to avoid multiple clicks and scrolling.

One Trust that is benefitting from deploying the technology is Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust – which had been forced to act quickly during COVID-19 when it foresaw a potential reduction in staff resources and capacity due to the impending crisis. This accelerated its requirements for speech recognition solutions in order to manage the growing demand against capacity. Since then, the uptake of the technology has been rapid throughout the trust, with a recent significant spike in usage as lockdown measures have eased and more hospital services resumed.

The global pandemic has spurred a newfound commitment to innovation throughout healthcare. This is something that we must seek to continue as the threat of a second wave and the uncertainty of the winter months looms. After all, artificial intelligence has the power to reimagine patient services as we know them; easing the administrative burden placed upon clinical professionals and helping to improve the patient experience. We’ve seen how a change in routine can change mindsets, and now is the time to focus on the benefits of this new mindset – leaning into technology as an enabler of more human patient services, even when carried out over digital channels.

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