3 Processes Behavioral Health Clinics Can Automate To Help Improve Patient Care
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Behavioral health is connected to every aspect of our society. Positive behavioral health allows people to cope better with everyday stress, work more productively, and engage in healthy eating, exercise, and sleeping habits. In short, behavioral health treatment can significantly improve your quality of life. And we rely on highly trained practitioners to keep us healthy using their extensive behavioral science knowledge and increasingly advanced clinical tools.
However, behavioral health clinicians and the organizations they work for are facing many challenges. For example, many clinicians worry that they don't have enough time to spend with their patients, stay up to date with current best practices, respond to emergencies, and keep on top of all the necessary work outside direct patient care.
So, how do we combat this problem? First, behavioral health clinicians need solutions to the colossal amount of data and documentation they deal with daily, so they can focus on what really matters - direct patient care. Automating your health practice doesn't have to be an arduous, complex process. On the contrary, you can begin by automating a few simple tasks that make things run more smoothly. It's the difference between high cost and high impact - simple bots, and smart bots can help you achieve the latter without the former.
With this in mind, let's look at the simple tasks you can automate to free up time and energy to focus on more valuable parts of the business.
The State of Behavioral Health Today
Behavioral health refers to how your mind and habits impact your mental and physical health. This includes things like eating habits, substance abuse, addiction, marriage and family counseling, management of chronic diseases, mental health, and more. Behavioral health is a vast field, meaning treatment or care can look different for each patient depending on what help they need.
Crucially, many people struggle to understand the difference between behavioral health and mental health. The terms do have some overlap, but they are distinct. Mental health covers many of the same issues as behavioral health, but mental health only includes the biological aspect of wellness. By contrast, behavioral health also encompasses behavioral and environmental (external) factors to wellness.
Behavioral health statistics to keep you up at night:
- 1 in 4 people experience significant behavioral illness during their lifetime. The consequences can be ruinous because poor behavioral health can lead directly to suicide, overdose, and premature death.
- Drug overdose deaths in the US since 2000 are nearing one million.
- 21% of US adults experienced mental illness in 2020, and 5.6% experienced serious mental illness.
- 7.74% of US adults reported having a substance user disorder in the past year, and 5.71% reported having an alcohol use disorder in the past year.
- 4.58% of US adults have serious thoughts of suicide.
- 5.08% of US youth (age 12-17) report suffering from at least one major depressive episode in the past year.
Healthcare is Generating the World's Largest Volume of Data
As healthcare continues to converge with technology, we've seen an explosion of data with no end in sight. Data management is becoming both a challenge and an asset for healthcare companies worldwide. Simply put, healthcare care is fueling exciting transformations in treatment and prevention.
But just how much data are we talking about? According to recent research, the healthcare sector generates approximately 30% of the world's data volume. This figure is expected to reach 36% by 2025. That's higher than any other industry, including manufacturing, financial services, and media and entertainment.
Behavioral Health Bots - Use Cases
The statistics in the last sections highlight that the need for effective behavioral health treatment has never been greater and that the industry needs to better manage its vast troves of data. Sometimes, it's best to start small and make significant strides in the areas that directly improve the core functions of the business without needing sweeping technological and process overhauls. This is where bots can be highly effective.
Scheduling and Follow-Ups
Clinicians and hospital managers spend an excessive amount of time on scheduling. As a result, they often find themselves tied up constantly corresponding with patients to organize simple tasks like booking an appointment when they could be spending their time doing something far more critical.
Typically, manual appointment scheduling involves many time-intensive tasks like making endless phone calls, collecting data, manually navigating to the appropriate systems, and so forth. Conflicting schedules also exacerbate issues. For example, patients might struggle to make contact with clinic staff due to phone lines being engaged or busy work schedules.
But bots offer a better way forward. For example, automated scheduling bots allow patients to view the clinician's calendar and available appointment slots. The patient can then select a time that works best for them. The bot can also send confirmation of the appointment to the patient and send reminders to reduce the risk of no-shows.
And then there are follow-ups. Patients often need regular medical checkups after finishing treatment to ensure their recovery is going as planned and the treatment was a success. Bots can communicate with patients and automatically use the clinicians' calendar to schedule follow-up appointments at regular intervals.
Bots also allow for more patient autonomy. For example, patients can communicate with the bot to reschedule appointments without having to contact the clinic.
Benefits of automated appointment scheduling:
- Reduced labor burden: Hospital employees are freed from mundane and repetitive appointment scheduling admin tasks.
- Easily accessible: Patients can schedule appointments at any time of the day and in just a few minutes. They don't have to wait for callbacks or set aside time to call the clinic.
- Recurring and repeating schedules: Automated systems facilitate better calendar hygiene.
- Reduction in cancellations and no-shows: Bots make it easy to schedule and reschedule appointments and send helpful reminders to patients. Missed appointments cost the US healthcare system $150 billion each year. With budgets tighter than ever, driving down no-shows should be a top priority.
Moreover, scheduling bots may be more critical in behavioral health than in other healthcare sub-sectors. For example, patients dealing with anxiety and depression may struggle with more direct forms of communication, like calling the clinic. Whatsmore, shame and societal stigma surrounding substance misuse can lead to decision paralysis, causing the patient to struggle to take action even if they want to. Bots provide a straightforward route to treatment by eliminating much of the friction in the booking process. Or in other words, it's much each to work up the courage to use a bot than to call a person.
Missing Data Points
There's been much hype about how Big Data collection and analysis can enable healthcare organizations to make more informed decisions about treatment and services. This field is undoubtedly exciting, but many healthcare organizations are still some way off harnessing its true potential.
Instead, healthcare clinics worldwide are still battling "dirty" patient information. This information impacts daily operations, makes effective data sharing challenging, and harms healthcare outcomes, among other problems. But what exactly is "dirty" patient information? It refers to inaccurate, incomplete, inconsistent, or obsolete data.
Imagine a scenario where a patient goes to their behavioral healthcare clinic for a checkup. This patient has enrolled in programs at this center in the past, and as a result, has several medical records. The clinician types in the patient's name, and several medical records pop up, all pertaining to the same patient but siloed from each other. This puts the clinician in an awkward position. Do you create a new record? Or find the most relevant record to link the latest information?
Situations like this can lead to duplicate or inconsistent data that put patients at risk. At the same time, duplicate data is highly costly for healthcare organizations. AHIMA estimated that duplicate medical records could cost an eye-watering $40 million for any given provider.
Beyond duplicate data, poor data integrity can lead to delays and frustrations with patients who need urgent care. It can also result in mistreatment, prescribing the wrong medication, and more.
Despite this bleak picture, there are ways to automate the process of gathering missing data:
- Bots can search for missing data points in the EHR system and send alerts to clinicians to remind them to collect the necessary data.
- Chatbots can re-verify patient data by asking patients to confirm whether their contact details are still correct.
- Bots can send automated texts or emails to patients asking for missing information.
- Bots can highlight duplicate or inconsistent data across medical record systems and send the analysis to the relevant team for review.
On average, physicians receive 10 to 25 prescription refill requests every day. Unfortunately, this places a substantial administrative burden on doctors and forces their attention away from more critical tasks. Luckily, smart bots can help.
Bots can do much of the heavy lifting in managing refills. For example, bots can send automatic reminders to patients to alert them when their prescription refills are due. Bots can also send alerts to physicians to create refills. This helps cut down on phone calls and in-person refill requests that tend to slow down the whole operation.
Patients can also manage their prescription refills from the comfort of their own homes at a time that's convenient for them. They can log on to the online bot-enabled portal or talk to a chatbot. With the bot-powered system, the process might look something like this:
- The patient selects their clinician from the list of doctors.
- They select the medication they need.
- Enter the medication frequency.
- Add any additional comments, if relevant.
- Enter their pharmacy details.
- Submit the refill request.
- Once submitted, a notification is automatically sent to the healthcare clinic for verification and approval.
- If approved, a notification is sent to the pharmacy.
- A notification is automatically sent to the patient detailing that their request has been approved and when they can collect their medication.
A chatbot works similarly. The bot would guide the patient through the necessary steps to submit their refill request.
Automating refills also helps create a tighter audit trail and empowers healthcare providers to manage patient medication schedules better.
How Do You Get Started?
So, you've decided to automate key parts of your behavioral health organization. But where do you start?
Find the Low-Hanging Fruit
Automation can be complex and time-consuming, but it doesn't have to be. If you spend too long focusing on complex processes, you might suffer from analysis paralysis and struggle to get your automation project off the ground. So instead, pick processes that:
- Are low in complexity.
- Involve mundane, repetitive, rules-based work.
- Are time-consuming and labor-intensive.
- Are prone to errors.
Define Your Problems and Set Goals
Automation projects are far more likely to succeed if you approach them with clearly defined problems and goals.
Examples of problems could be:
- Lack of analytics.
- A clunky appointment booking process.
- Inconsistent data.
- Legacy systems that don't share data appropriately.
- Poor patient experiences due to long wait times, lack of communication with clinicians, or a friction-heavy patient journey.
Examples of goals could be:
- Improve the quality of service.
- Improve patient access and reduce friction.
- Reduce operating costs.
- Free up employees' time.
- Expand analytics.
- Optimize workflows across legacy systems.
Select the Right Automation Tools
You should look for automation solutions that offer all the tools you need today but are flexible enough to expand as your business grows. Automation tools are getting smarter and smarter, so it shouldn't be too challenging to find bots that leverage next-generation automation features like AI, Optical Character Recognition (OCR), Robotic Process Automation (RPA), and Machine Learning and Natural Language Processing, even on a modest budget.
At the same time, it's crucial to pick tools that are flexible as well as pack the features you want. You might have a small behavioral health clinic today, but that could change in the future. If you go through a period of rapid growth, you want a tool that can scale as you scale without causing friction.
Understand the Power of Data
Data transfer and data sharing are critical in any practice, but especially in behavioral health, where one patient may enroll in several different treatment programs. Effective data transfer and sharing allow for seamless continuity of care and reduce the risk of data errors that could harm patient outcomes. With this in mind, you should ensure that:
- The automation tools you select have powerful data-sharing capabilities and are system agnostic. System-agnostic tools can interact with your existing systems without hassle.
- Your organization understands the importance of clean data and data interoperability across platforms. Getting serious about data hygiene today not only guarantees a smoother automation implementation project but also prepares your organization for next-generation data science projects in the future.
- Ensure Your Tool Can Do the Basics Well
You should opt for a system that can automatically collect, aggregate, track, and report on critical information while removing labor-intensive manual tasks. With so many automation products on the market, it's easy to get distracted by the noise. But it's important to remember why you want to leverage automation in the first place (your problems and goals). In other words, don't get drawn in by a flashy feature without first checking that the tool can easily handle all of the high-impact basics.
- Remember the End Users
Some automation tools, like robotic process automation bots, can largely run in the background without any interference to your current systems. These bots act like helpful intermediaries between your existing software, improving your capabilities without introducing new interfaces. However, some automation tools will have dedicated apps and user interfaces. If you opt for one of these, it's essential to consider how easy-to-use the app is for users on the ground. Will it require significant and ongoing user training? Is it intuitive, or do its complex features cause confusion? Remember, a tool is only useful if people know how to use it (and want to use it).
It's also important to consider ongoing support. For example, if you run into problems with your automation solution, will the vendor company be on hand to help? If you need to change or expand your solution, can you receive help in doing that, or will it be left to your in-house developers, who may not have the skills to make your dreams a reality? Answering these questions now can save headaches and costs later down the line.
Behavioral health is a booming industry that's only expected to grow as more people take a proactive interest in their physical and mental wellness. However, if behavioral health organizations want to offer the most effective care possible, they need to leverage modern solutions like bots and smart bots. Smart bots can improve patient outcomes by improving access to care, speeding up operations, reducing costs, and freeing up clinicians' time to focus on more critical patient-centric tasks. And critically, the organizations that decide not to invest in automation risk being left behind while their competitors race ahead.
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January 9, 2024