Health care’s post-pandemic lurch into the virtual world has challenged physicians to continuously communicate with their patients as they provide ongoing care. However, as the patient-doctor relationship has evolved, physicians have found themselves responding to sometimes thousands of patient messages every week through emails and patient portals.
Health care advocates, leaders and scholars have long evangelized the need for more constant touch points with patients. But that continuous communication and access to care has led to unintended physician burden. At a time when the number of physicians has dwindled, that burden becomes heavier for those doctors. According to current data, medical school enrollment is down, yet health care demand increases. This signals the need for even more efficiencies in health care, but not at the sacrifice of optimal patient engagement.
Can technology help?
Emerging technologies such as the artificial intelligence chatbot ChatGPT offer potential solutions to the challenges of patient engagement and communication for overburdened physicians and staffs.
For instance, in terms of the sheer volume of patient messages, more and more physicians may find they may not have time to decipher messages from their patients. And while some health systems have announced they may begin charging for patient messages, perhaps curbing message volume slightly, doing so still requires attention from the provider, time and resources that many providers would argue they do not have.
Responding to messages, while generally perceived as good care, can lead to providers working even longer hours, which leads to burnout in a profession that cannot afford to lose more physicians and staff.
ChatGPT could provide potential solutions to these challenges. A recent use case involved summarizing patient messages to allow physicians to respond more accurately and efficiently. Patients are generally not experts at clearly describing their physical or mental symptoms, and often those explanations can affect the coherence of a message.
In this scenario, a physician asked ChatGPT to summarize patient messages and receive, in turn, a succinct, thoughtful message condensing critical details in a brief post, allowing for faster assessment and the ability to reply back quickly to the patient. This was repeated in other patient messages allowing the physician to handle the large volume of communications effectively.
It’s important to note that ChatGPT does not formulate the response directly to patients. Providers are still in control of how care and messaging to the patients are communicated. Providers can leverage this technology to respond to patients more quickly and efficiently.
In the meantime, while regulations and sophistication of ChatGPT solutions improve, additional ChatGPT applications could include streamlined patient monitoring and reminders on screenings and prescription refills, clinical notes and discharge summaries, assessment of patient history, customized health plans, lab result and imaging results extraction for physician review and decision making.
Applications of AI and other digital technologies like ChatGPT are not a panacea for all the ills facing hospitals and health care systems. Each use case requires careful evaluation by both clinical and administrative leaders. However, for applicable use cases, technology like ChatGPT could exponentially improve health care organizations’ ability to address physician burdens, expand access to care, improve outcomes and patient experience, and reduce costs.