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Patients benefit from AI-powered care navigator at Columbia Memorial Health

Albany Med-Columbia Memorial Health (CMH) in Hudson, New York, is a community hospital and health system serving more than 100,000 residents in Columbia and Greene counties.

THE PROBLEM

CMH’s digital presence was not able to capture all the business opportunities in its area of influence. Patients would look for their symptoms on Google and seek care at other hospitals and health systems in the region that had a stronger digital presence.

In a hyper-localized business like healthcare, this situation put CMH at a disadvantage against its competitors.

PROPOSAL

So CMH launched a digital front-door patient experience project, powered by artificial intelligence. The objectives of the project were to:

  • Drive more business to the doorstep. Convert online traffic into qualified patient leads.
  • Offer the right care at the right time online 24/7.
  • Improve the patient journey by reducing wait times and unnecessary steps.
  • Collect valuable population insights (demographic data, risk factors, initial symptoms, list of diagnoses, etc.).

“We also were keen on enhancing the overall patient experience,” said Dr. Ronald Pope, vice president of medical services, care centers, at Albany Med-Columbia Memorial Health. “We aimed to achieve this by streamlining the journey for patients, with a particular focus on reducing wait times and eliminating any unnecessary steps in the process.

“In doing so, CMH sought to provide patients with a more seamless and efficient healthcare experience while optimizing its online presence to better serve our community,” he continued.

Vicenç Ferrer, managing director at vendor Mediktor, came to CMH with a proposal to use an AI-based medical assistant to empower patients when they feel more vulnerable and need guidance.

“Patients already have the impulse to check their symptoms and seek care online, mostly on platforms like Dr. Google, which turns out to be dangerous and risks people’s health,” Pope said. “Mediktor proposed to us to leverage this patient behavior and provide them with an appropriate and safe digital solution instead.

“The AI space can get very complex and confusing, so I would look for plug-and-play AI systems that address specific problems that are easy to integrate in your organization’s tech stack.”

Dr. Ronald Pope, Albany Med-Columbia Memorial Health

“The intersection of AI and healthcare has created new opportunities for healthcare organizations, and we decided to leverage it to offer patients online, on-demand healthcare guidance at the first onset of symptoms,” he continued. “Patients now can make informed decisions and know what’s the best next step in their care journey, allowing CMH to stand up against our regional competitors.”

This would enable patients to quickly evaluate their symptoms online and get directed to the appropriate CMH care point. Such a strategy would optimize the use of time and resources for both patients and healthcare professionals.

MEETING THE CHALLENGE

“We embedded an AI-based care navigation assistant powered by Mediktor in our website, app and condition-specific landing pages, making it available for our patients anywhere and anytime in order to provide our community high-quality and compassionate care,” Pope explained.

“By providing patients with an automated care navigation assistant when they feel more vulnerable, we have been able to qualify patients early and direct them to the right level of care: telemedicine, primary care and pediatrics, or the emergency room,” he continued. “Therefore, we achieved more online business and prevented patients from visiting our competitors.”

The medical team had to introduce the protocols and guidelines used to triage patients offline and by telephone in the vendor’s digital health system and integrate the endpoints in order to provide a smooth, seamless user experience.

“On top of offering the care navigation assistant in our web and app, we decided to start creating condition-specific landing pages,” Pope noted. “We have just released a respiratory-specific landing page and we expect that is going to help us better manage seasonal pulmonary conditions, including the potential tripledemic of influenza, COVID-19 and RSV we may face this coming fall.”

These landing pages contain educational content and encourage visitors to check symptoms and provide them with healthcare guidance when needed.

“Our marketing team came up with initiatives to promote our new care navigation assistant throughout all our channels using both SEO and SEM strategies in order to familiarize patients with this new tool and show them how to properly use it,” Pope said. “We also have started promoting this innovation offline and handed out flyers in the doctor’s office and hospital’s common areas.”

RESULTS

Pope reported numerous successes from the project to date:

  • Combining industry data for average cost of ER, PCP and telemedicine visits without insurance with the total number of patients routed to book appointments from the new system to CMH, CMH estimates that it achieved 3 times ROI from its investment.
  • Positive feedback from CMH patients who used the new system averages a Net Promoter Score of 72.
  • 9,312 completed assessments in 12 months.
  • 39.43% of patients use the system recurrently.

ADVICE FOR OTHERS

“Digital transformation has finally penetrated the healthcare industry, especially since the COVID-19 outbreak, and AI-powered digital health systems are playing a relevant role in this new paradigm,” Pope stated. “AI-based systems already have disrupted other industries such as banking and travel, so my advice is to embrace it.

“The key, as it always happens when deploying innovation, is to clearly identify and execute the use case,” he continued. “Technology by itself will never fix a problem. It’s the appropriate use of a technology that will successfully address an issue.”

Regarding AI-powered systems, there is a lot of talk around white box versus black box technology, he added.

“I recommend working with systems that use white-box technology since you will always be able to track down why an AI algorithm came up with a specific recommendation and hold it accountable the same way we do with humans,” he advised.

“Also, the AI space can get very complex and confusing, so I would look for plug-and-play AI systems that address specific problems that are easy to integrate in your organization’s tech stack,” he concluded. “There currently are mushrooming generalist large language models on the market that require long and costly deployments that are not appropriate for the vast majority of healthcare provider organizations.”

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