How technology can help solve America’s health care accessibility crisis

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In the corridors of America’s health care facilities, there is a growing sense of concern. Health system leaders, doctors, nurses, and patients agree that health care is in crisis. The system is being placed under extreme pressure. Demand is surging as a result of aging populations and a rise in chronic disease. There are staff shortages everywhere. We have incredibly talented, dedicated clinicians working in the field, but there are simply not enough to meet the demand. At the same time, rising costs and systemic disparities are putting pressure on health care organizations to operate more efficiently.

For patients, access to health care is increasingly elusive. The system is strained, and the challenges are getting worse. We are arriving at a critical juncture, one in which leaders in every facet of the health care industry—from pharmaceutical CEOs to hospital administrators—need to reflect on the causes and impact of this crisis and, most important, explore avenues for systemic change.

An issue of access

One of the biggest problems in health care today, in the U.S. and many other parts of the world, is access. Access in all its forms. Access to primary and preventive care. Access to specialized care. Access to clinicians in a timely manner, even when patients are already in the hospital. Access to posthospital and remote treatment. Geographic access in health care deserts. Access for underserved communities. The list goes on and on. This is happening not just in under-resourced community hospitals, but at some of the best academic medical centers in the world. Patients are suffering as a result of the inability to access care. At the same time, clinicians and other health care workers are burning out from the ceaseless burdens they face on a daily basis.

These experiences are supported by a recent study from AMN Healthcare, a healthcare staffing and research company, which found that in America’s 15 largest cities, it takes nearly a month to see a new physician, more than a month to see an ob-gyn, and even longer for other specialists. The latest projections by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) indicate that the U.S. will face a shortage of as many as 86,000 clinicians by 2036.

Navigating the next era of care access

The pressure of that shortage is made clear in the Future Health Index (FHI) 2024 report, released this week by Philips, a health care technology company. In its ninth year running, the annual global study of almost 3,000 leaders in health care explores the challenges facing health systems today and the steps health care leaders are taking to address them. 

Workforce shortages are cited by 92% of the surveyed health care leaders as having a profound impact on staff well-being, work-life balance, morale, and mental health. And 81% say those shortages have a negative impact on patient care. Efforts must be made to add to the number of clinicians and reduce the numbers leaving the field as a result of burnout. But bending that curve and bringing new doctors and nurses into the field may take a generation, and action is needed now.

The health care leaders we surveyed provide insight into how health systems are acting to address the challenges they face today. There is no one single fix, but the following innovations can help: 

●  Adopting AI-driven automation enables clinicians to spend more time with patients and handle an ever-growing caseload. For example, automating repetitive tasks or processes can help health care professionals save time. 

●  Data integration promises a faster path to clinical decisions, freeing up more time for clinicians to spend with patients.

●  Extending care to remote/virtual environments, beyond the walls of the hospital into lower-cost settings, requires less time of clinicians and creates a better patient experience.

Moving forward, the industry must continue to prioritize investment in technology that enhances patient care and streamlines administrative processes, reduces medical errors, and drives down costs. By doubling down on efforts to embrace digital transformation, health care providers can unlock productivity, empower clinicians, and take steps to improve access to care.

Partnering to deliver meaningful innovation

In pursuit of this change, partnership is central. Strategic collaborations between technology companies and health care providers can lead to innovations that include AI-enabled workflow and patient-experience technologies that reduce scan times and the potential need for sedation. As an example, Philips is working with Nicklaus Children’s Health System in South Florida to enhance pediatric care, and collaborating with engineers and child psychologists to understand how to improve their experience and make it easier for clinicians to create a healthy future for every child.

No single entity possesses all the answers to the complex challenges we face. We stand at an inflection point. There is a clear realization that the demands on the system—and the pressure on our health care workforce—will only increase. Collaboration among health care providers, technology innovators, policymakers, and communities is essential to driving impactful solutions that can provide better care for more people at scale. 

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