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Digital Humans: Helping Doctors and Patients Meet Demands

By Piers Smith

Artificial intelligence (AI) is transforming health care now more than ever. Worldwide, practices are adopting technologies that are changing the way physicians interact with patients. Sitting face to face with a patient is becoming less a possibility during today’s global pandemic. However, thanks to digital humans and other forms of AI, individuals can still receive one-on-one attention from the comfort of their homes.

Digital humans and new AI forms are hyper-realistic avatars with personalities, voice inflections, and facial expressions. These conversational chatbots are helping physicians avoid burnout while streamlining operations for health care practices. Patients who might otherwise be reluctant to come into an office and share their symptoms can now interact with text-based chatbots where they can ask questions and fill out forms, all from the convenience of home.

Relieving Physician Burnout and Keeping Up With Demand
A recent study shows physicians spend almost one-half of their time on desk work and record-keeping while reporting only 27% of their time is spent working directly with patients. Doctors are being pulled in myriad directions and are overloaded with added responsibilities. A BMC Health Services Research study reports 26% of health care workers are suffering from burnout. Incorporating AI and digital humans into their practices will help relieve potential burnout or enervation by decreasing current time-consuming responsibilities such as patient education, prescription refill, or simply checking in on patients.

It’s also no secret that the health care industry is in dire need of trained workers. According to a study by the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, by 2026, the United States will need 11.6 million health care workers to meet demands. Digital humans and AI will bridge that gap, enabling practices and physicians to maintain exceptional standards for their patients, despite a need for more frontline workers.

The need for more health care workers is also pivotal to keeping up with the pressures of an aging population. The World Health Organization reports that between 2015 and 2050, the proportion of the world’s population older than 60 will nearly double to 22%. This aging population may not be accustomed to new technologies, but due to COVID-19 and the recent uptick of telemedicine, many people of all ages are already getting used to virtual assistance with their medical needs. Doctors can recommend digital assistance to their patients, talking them through the process and addressing any hesitation or fear they may have. Training and education to trust and use automation technologies will significantly benefit the entire health care system, from physician to patient.

Streamlining Operations
Digital humans can also help practices streamline their processes by acting as health coaches in online formats to answer questions patients might have. Unique patient profiles, including family history and medical records, can be accessed quickly by AI machines and considered with patients on their timeline. For staff, AI will automate customer interactions across website, phone, e-mail, and text, instantaneously releasing them to handle other important matters.

For too long, recordkeeping and access to records have been troublesome subjects. Automation can help clinics and hospitals optimize their electronic health records and make them readily accessible for review by physicians and digital humans assisting patients.

AI can also streamline the intake of insurance information. Digital humans have proven to be more effective at the input and completion of insurance forms, outperforming other digital means. Digital automation through AI can also explain complex discharge materials and further-care instructions to wary patients.

Easing Patients’ Reluctance
Whether feeling embarrassed or judged, some patients are simply hesitant to disclose details about their symptoms to someone face to face. Physicians know that many times patients downplay symptoms or issues, withholding pertinent information for diagnosis and treatment. A report by the JAMA Network Open shows that the most common reason patients fail to disclose pertinent information to physicians is fear of being judged. Whether a veteran has posttraumatic stress disorder or a patient is battling addictions, many are embarrassed to admit to another person their struggles. The failure to disclose information to health care providers can undermine the work clinicians are doing, unfortunately to the patient’s detriment. New methods of AI, such as digital humans provide patients with meaningful and lifelike human interaction, judgment-free. The programs interact as a realistic human avatar with simulated facial expressions, voice inflections, and empathy, therefore providing intuitive interfaces to ease patient concerns.

Digital humans and new forms of AI give physicians the ability to provide the highest quality care that patients expect. By taking on tasks such as screening patients, providing education, or answering questions, health care workers will focus their attention on more pressing matters. In turn, in 40 different languages, patients can have direct access to a conversational form of AI available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Reduced costs, patient-centric treatment plans, and the avoidance of unnecessary procedures are additional evidence that the AI health care market will take off exponentially. We must focus on our health care system and how to move forward with automation that will provide cost savings and much-needed support for health care professionals.

— Piers Smith is a digital human architect at UneeQ.