Being a doctor with a passion for technology hasn't been easy in recent years with all the talk of computers replacing us. But is the threat real?
The short answer? No.
In reality though it's a little bit more complicated than that. Working with hospitals and IT vendors, I'm always asked to help identify ways in which technology can lead to cost savings. The single biggest expenditure is often the workforce, so it stands to reason that it's a top target for most hospital finance directors. Even though I never became an advisor to find ways for technology to replace humans, it remains a question that has to be answered whenever relevant.
So what are some of the common areas where technology might lead to a change of personnel? And in reality, is it an opportunity to redefine some job roles altogether?
1. Medical Secretaries
Medical secretaries are often under-supported and overworked. One area in which their workload can and will be reduced is letter transcription. Clinical speech recognition has been around for awhile now and when placed at the front end with a clinician, it effectively eliminates a significant proportion, if not all, of the responsibility for that task for a secretary. When this is combined with automated scheduling software it makes it more likely that the number of individual secretaries required will go down and remaining staff will be retrained as administrative workflow co-ordinators.
2. Administrative Support Staff
There is a surprising volume of staff involved in the preparation and mailing of letters and clinical documents. As health information exchange and document management systems become more ubiquitous, then many of these processes will be made redundant and so make many of these roles no longer viable.
3. Medical Records Management
Paper-based document storage, archiving and management are incredibly inefficient and human resource intensive processes. It will take time for many providers to digitise their records, but moving forward it will be a significant opportunity to improve records management by eliminating many of the time-intensive components. This will improve governance, but, also as a by-product, reduce the number of staff required for the identification and categorisation of medical records whilst enhancing the roles of remaining staff as co-ordinators.
4. Clinic Receptionists
Increasingly, kiosk systems are available to check patients into clinics and to manage areas such as patient information sharing and appointment bookings. As these become more prevalent it will impact the role that the clinic receptionist plays, transforming into a flow co-ordinator whilst in some areas reducing the number of staff required.
5. Locum Staff
Reducing staff is almost always unpopular except in the case of locum staff. Huge overheads are seen from the use of temporary doctors and nurses to manage short-term provider demands. These are notoriously expensive and a prime target for budget management by finance directors. The increasing implementation of staff portals and business intelligence and analytics will improve rostering and demand management in many units, thus reducing costs.
The key point about technology is that it shouldn't be feared, but rather, be seen as an opportunity to redefine our working practices so that we continue to deliver effective services for our patients. In some cases, that will mean a reduction in staff, but for many others, it will be an opportunity to demonstrate leadership and development.
This blog is intended to contribute to discussion and stimulate debate on important issues in global digital health. The views are solely those of the author.