The Key to Proactive Primary Care is AI at the Point of Care

Updated on December 29, 2022
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It’s this simple: no human can digest the amount of data required to keep humans healthy.

A recent study by the American Academy of Family Physicians revealed that the clerical burden on primary care physicians steals a whopping 50% of their time, with 13% of the clinical day devoted to chart review. It’s only going to get worse, too. An aging population with more complex and chronic illnesses requires more attentive care, and as a result places a greater administrative burden on physicians, from more time-intensive chart review to greater documentation requirements.

These staggering numbers have immediate consequences: 40% of medical practices had physicians retire early in 2022 due to burnout, and we can expect a shortage of between 21,100 and 55,200 primary care physicians over the next decade. Physicians are in desperate need of a solution that can give them more time.

Proactive Primary Care Is Where a Healthier America Starts

Administration and burnout are problematic not only because of the obvious burden on physicians, but also because of the effect on the healthcare system as a whole. A healthier community starts with proactive primary care which, when effective, yields higher patient satisfaction at lower costs. According to the World Health Organization, proactive primary care “saves lives, reduces the burden of disease, and improves quality of life.”  

Yet in the United States, which compares unfavorably to other countries in terms of cost of medical care and outcomes, healthcare remains largely reactive, treating the here-and-now rather than taking a long-term approach to achieving a healthier population. 

Technology is Primary Care’s Nemesis and Savior

Technology will help alleviate the burden on physicians, but it’s also at the root of the problem. Physicians are facing a data crisis that was born of technology: healthcare data makes up 30% of the world’s data, with a compound annual growth rate of 36%. The same technologies that give physicians the tools they need to treat patients are also creating more data for them to process.

Furthermore, electronic health records, which have been mandatory since 2014 and have become a necessity of the physician-patient interaction, comprise thousands of data points for a single patient, including unstructured data from scanned consult notes, mislabeled documents, and information from a variety of sources that are stored in a chaotic jumble. 

The result of these technological shortfalls are twofold: the glut of data is simply too much for doctors to process, and subsequently, critical information—from diagnoses to preventive opportunities—is missed. 

According to the Journal of General and Internal Medicine, “The inclusion of the computer in the clinical encounter also draws visual and cognitive attention away from the patient. The provider must contend with an overload of information from the EHR, clicking through to look at prior visits, diagnoses, and medications and navigating prompts to screen, provide evidence-based care, and complete documentation.”

The AI Answer

Just a few weeks ago, ChatGPT was introduced, dazzling the world with its ability to create immediate, well-constructed answers to a virtually unlimited number of questions. For healthcare technology leaders, its introduction is a boon, focusing attention on the level of innovation that’s possible with artificial intelligence and showing the general population what these innovators already know: that only AI can address the current and future complexity of primary care needs.

We know it is possible to use AI to transform the physician and patient experience—indeed it is exactly what AI, deployed right, is best at—doing what no human is capable of. In the context of primary care, that means taking vast amounts of data, organizing it accurately and intuitively, and making it available when and where it is needed. 

This need has been validated by the community. According to a NASEM report, “Given the volume and breadth of necessary data to inform care, automated tools are needed to make sense of data, identify clinically important data, and improve care. More than any specialty, primary care needs for this information aggregation and analysis to be automated.” 

Recently, there has been some exciting news which demonstrates the immediate impact AI can have at the point of care. The AAFP’s study of AI clinical assistants found that AI technology can save physicians 61% time on chart review and improve diagnosis capture by 25%. This makes it easier for physicians to have a better understanding of their patient before they walk through the door, reduce missed diagnoses, and ultimately give them more facetime with their patients. 

A Vision of the Future—Possible Now 

AI at the point of care puts the right data in front of physicians at the right time, allowing them to make real-time decisions—whether it’s connecting the dots between two separate lab results, catching missed diagnoses, or remembering to suggest necessary preventive screenings. It gives physicians the time to look at the whole patient while they’re in the room, and transforms every physician-patient interaction.

AI gives us a future where primary care physicians can spend just a few minutes immersing themselves in a patient’s history and gain a full understanding of their health. 

It gives us a future where value-based requirements are met without clerical burdens, and where patients feel attended to and empowered. That future is here now, and it’s already being deployed. 

Ronen Lavi is co-founder and CEO of Navina, a digital health company that develops AI-powered technology for primary care physicians.