AI, automation, and the future of work in hospitals

April 27, 2022

Updated from the original, published February 2, 2021

Everywhere you look, the way we work is changing. New technologies, including artificial intelligence and automation, are rapidly impacting how work gets done across industries and even human employees’ roles in execution.

New AI applications are constantly emerging, and most industries have only scratched the surface of the potential of artificial intelligence. Over the past 18 months, AI adoption has skyrocketed, with 86% of companies noting AI was becoming a “mainstream technology” within their organization in 2021. As the adoption of AI continues to grow, experts predict that these technologies will fundamentally change the landscape of work as significantly as the Industrial Revolution did, including the work done in hospitals and health systems across the country.

Healthcare organizations are increasingly aware of AI’s potential. According to the 2021 Internet of Healthcare Report, nearly all healthcare executives (99%) agreed that AI and automation will allow employees to focus on more impactful work for patients.

According to the McKinsey Global Survey, the most commonly adopted AI use case is service-operations optimization. With all of the service operations that could be automated in health systems, the future is now for AI and automation to work hand-in-hand with humans in hospitals.

Artificial intelligence has the potential to disrupt healthcare

The term “artificial intelligence” encompasses a range of technologies, from robotic process automation (RPA) to machine learning to deep neural networks that find hidden insights in big data. Together, these technologies can transform the healthcare industry at every level. The many and varied potential applications that would benefit from advances in AI include drug development, personalized medicine, predictive analytics and robot-assisted surgery. But perhaps the most significant benefit and biggest change will be the automation of the administrative tasks that accompany every step of the healthcare journey. Deployment of AI in all of these areas is fiscally realistic, currently achievable and will boost enormously the productivity of health systems and every healthcare worker.

Many healthcare workers are bogged down by tedious data entry and a growing backlog of administrative tasks, and 91% of clinicians agree that improving administrative processes is the most urgent need to improve the quality of care provided to patients. Managing inventory and checking for expirations, submitting claims and correcting denials, processing invoices and updating contracts — most hospitals are chronically behind in all these areas. Employees are trying to keep up, while these processes drain their morale and cause revenue leaks due to care delays and data entry errors. But strides in natural language processing, computer vision and machine learning are vastly increasing applications of operational AI, making it possible to automate many of these tasks. At the same time, as AI completes more work and learns and collects more data, its ability to do more than robotic tasks will continue to grow. AI is beginning to share insights and opportunities for improvement, helping hospitals at a macro level while assisting individual employees in their day-to-day jobs. Only when automation and AI become more ingrained in our hospitals, freeing healthcare workers at all levels from the inescapable quicksand of operational tasks, will the industry be able to tackle bigger problems and deliver better healthcare for all. However, these gains from AI will not come without a massive shift in the hospital workplace. As hospitals adopt operational AI and automation, healthcare workers’ jobs will need to change.

Automation and AI will change how we work

Healthcare executives believe that if fully automated data processes replaced manual data entry, each worker would save 93 minutes every day. Instead of replacing jobs, machines will be working alongside humans in an “augmented workforce.” Intelligent automation will take on many of the repetitive workflows in the hospital, freeing human employees to tackle jobs that need a human touch. Healthcare employees will be able to focus on negotiating contracts, managing complex denials, communicating with patients, providing direct patient care and tackling other high-level strategic initiatives. And AI will help with these administrative tasks as well, working alongside healthcare employees to provide key data exactly when it's needed, generate insights to help them work smarter and check for errors throughout their daily work.

As an example, let’s examine denials management. Most denials management processes can already be automated, including correcting errors and resubmitting claims, reducing the need for human involvement to only the denied claims AI can’t handle. Even then, when it alerts the human employee to the problem, it can also provide key data points, point out errors that were already checked and estimate what the problem is, greatly reducing the time needed to address the issue. If the same problem happens repeatedly, AI can catch that and provide insight into the common problem so a human can fix it on the front end, stopping that error from happening again. Artificial intelligence can make the entire denials management workflow smarter and more efficient from start to finish. And this type of adaptation can occur for thousands of workflows in the hospital. AI can be a tool, an assistant, a peer or even a manager of processes, opening every job to the positive impact of artificial intelligence. From the surgeon choosing surgical supplies using predictive analytics to the revenue cycle manager overseeing claims automations, all employees will need to evolve with the changing workplace.

The augmented workforce of the future is coming. Automation and AI may not eliminate jobs, but they will change them. The industry needs to prepare for these changes to fully realize the benefits of artificial intelligence and care for patients and employees.

Healthcare needs to prepare for the future of work, powered by AI

As health systems consider widespread adoption of AI, they need to be simultaneously thinking about how it will change their enterprise. Without addressing both the technology and the workers, they won’t be able to fully realize the benefits of the transformative technologies. Having an effective change management strategy is very important for the long-term success of a healthcare system, and implementing AI can help lead to a more efficient strategy.

There will be new in-demand skills, and job descriptions will shift. New positions will be created, and others may be eliminated. Mid-career employees will have the opportunity to upskill and learn new processes. Healthcare organizations should support internal training and career development opportunities. The industry needs to ensure that its education and credentialing systems accurately reflect the new skill demands and technological competencies. At hospitals, a shift in mindset will need to occur to reach widespread adoption of AI. Healthcare employees may be apprehensive about the technologies and be reluctant to adopt them out of fear of change or job elimination, so new initiatives need to be clearly explained, including how they will impact employees. AI and automation shouldn’t be feared; they should be making people’s jobs more meaningful and their work more effective. That goal and vision of putting humans back to human-centric work need to be communicated and shown at every step of the implementation.

The future of work has already begun

Automation and AI are already being adopted throughout health systems. As these technologies irreversibly change the workplace, it’s up to all of us to ensure they’re deployed responsibly and create a future of work that is better and brighter for everyone — employees, providers, payers and patients.

At Olive, we are shaping the future of work at health systems across the country with AI solutions that automate work, deliver efficiencies and reduce costs throughout the system. And because connectivity is needed — 68% of healthcare employees logged into multiple systems during the pandemic to track patient data — Olive is creating AI-powered hospitals where AI seamlessly works behind the scenes to connect the enterprise, providing value and insights across the entire healthcare system while reducing burnout and saving valuable time for employees.

Learn more about solutions that can learn and adapt to empower healthcare providers.