Harnessing AI in Self-Triage Paves the Way for Improved Patient-Centered Care

Updated on March 4, 2024

The adoption of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is rapidly transforming many facets of healthcare – from revenue cycle management to patient care. One of the more interesting and promising advancements is the development of digital self-triage tools. These tools not only help to redefine and enhance patient engagement, but are streamlining patient flow, particularly significant in the wake of COVID-19 and the ensuing rise of telemedicine.

Understanding Digital Self-Triage Tools

The healthcare journey often begins with a patient noticing symptoms and deciding on the next steps. Traditional options have ranged from ignoring the symptoms (all too common, and often a serious mistake) to seeking immediate medical attention – whether it’s engaging a provider or summoning an ambulance. Digital self-triage provides an alternative, offering patients a chance to understand their symptoms before making healthcare decisions. These AI-powered tools conduct structured medical interviews, akin to those a patient would experience with a healthcare provider, to gather information about symptoms and provide probable diagnoses and care recommendations.

This process is highly personalized, considering the patient’s specific symptoms and potentially related conditions. The AI-driven system then suggests the most appropriate level of care – whether it’s staying at home, scheduling a routine doctor’s appointment, seeking urgent care, or heading to the emergency department. It also advises on the most relevant specialist to consult and whether a physical examination or telehealth consultation is more suitable.

Provider Benefits 

From a healthcare provider’s standpoint, digital self-triage offers several advantages:

  1. Reduction of Unnecessary ER Visits: One major benefit is the potential to reduce non-urgent visits to emergency departments, especially during off-hours. This not only alleviates the strain on healthcare resources but also minimizes frustration among medical professionals who often deal with cases that could be managed elsewhere.
  2. Early Intervention in Serious Cases: Conversely, self-triage can prompt patients who underestimate their symptoms to seek timely medical attention. This early intervention can be crucial in cases where delayed treatment can lead to significantly worse outcomes.
  3. Efficiency in Patient Documentation: A substantial portion of a healthcare provider’s time is consumed by patient documentation. Digital self-triage can pre-emptively collect much of this information, reducing the time providers spend on administrative tasks and allowing them to focus more on direct patient care.

Impacts for Patients

For patients, the primary benefit of AI-powered self-triage lies in gaining early insights into their health conditions. This early awareness can lead to timely and appropriate medical intervention, potentially altering the course of their health journey. For example, symptoms perceived as minor could be early indicators of chronic conditions or other serious health issues. With digital self-triage, patients are more likely to seek professional care when necessary, potentially saving lives.

Safety and Efficacy Concerns

The safety and efficacy of AI in healthcare, particularly in patient triage, has been a subject of much discussion. In developing these AI systems, it is crucial to base the algorithms on medically reviewed data and insights from healthcare professionals. This approach ensures that the AI’s recommendations are grounded in reliable medical knowledge.

Obstacles to Adoption

The greatest resistance to adopting digital self-triage typically often comes from healthcare providers. Many medical professionals are skeptical of AI, fearing it may replace human judgment or add to their workload with additional tools. Therefore, integrating these systems into existing workflows and demonstrating their ability to save time and improve care is essential for wider acceptance.

Developing a tool for medical professionals presents greater challenges compared to creating one for patients. Physicians already navigate a complex array of tools in their daily practice, including various Electronic Health Records (EHRs) and numerous data sources. The objective isn’t to add another cumbersome tool to their toolkit, necessitating additional time for review, such as analyzing symptom checker results. Instead, the aim should be to design a tool that streamlines their workflow and saves time. 

The complexity lies in tailoring this tool to seamlessly integrate into the diverse work processes of doctors, who operate under varying systems and practices in different countries, hospitals, and healthcare settings. Adapting to these varied workflows and integrating with different EHRs and systems represent the most challenging aspects of this endeavor.

Focus on Patient-Centered Care

The journey towards integrating digital self-triage tools in healthcare is ongoing. Patient education and gradual adaptation are key to building trust in these AI systems. By effectively leveraging digital self-triage, healthcare can move towards more efficient, patient-centered care, reducing unnecessary burdens on the system and enhancing the patient experience. 

Piotr Orzechowski copy
Piotr Orzechowski
Founder and CEO at Infermedica

Piotr Orzechowski is the founder and CEO of Infermedica, a digital health company specializing in AI-powered solutions for symptom analysis and patient triage, which he founded in 2012. Piotr began his professional career in the gaming industry as an engineer and software developer and worked for several smaller businesses and startups before founding Infermedica with the goal of making healthcare more accessible and convenient for everyone.

Jakub Jaszczak copy
Jakub Jaszczak
Senior Product Manager at Infermedica

Jakub Jaszczak is a medical doctor leading the team, consisting of over 40 physicians, developers and researchers focused on developing and maintaining the medical knowledge base (aka. Metabase), and the medical reasoning algorithm used in the intelligent health solutions developed at Infermedica. He is responsible for planning and future growth of medical knowledge in new fields, and its connection with other symptoms, risk factors, and conditions.