Recently, there has been a push for automation across all industries as the world becomes more digitized. The financial, banking, and insurance industries, among others, have started to see the benefits of automation in their processes. 

Automation can be particularly helpful in interactions between companies and their clients, or in the case of the healthcare industry, between healthcare professionals and their patients, by managing incoming calls and queries, ensuring consistency and efficiency in communication.

While automation holds great potential in helping companies and institutions deliver excellent customer service, a misuse– that is, automating the wrong processes– can do more damage than good. If not appropriately implemented, automation can waste time and resources, creating disorienting situations for those involved in the interaction. Therefore, it is essential to be mindful of which processes are better left handled by human professionals and where AI solutions can better support human agents.

The global pandemic has only accelerated this digital transformation in customer service, especially in the healthcare industry, where systems are overwhelmed, and direct contact between doctors and patients should be minimized. 

Choosing to automate

Automation can relieve healthcare professionals of tasks that are repetitive and time-consuming. In terms of customer service, automation can help answer FAQs through chatbots, ask for feedback, and book new or follow-up appointments. Combined with predictive AI, it can make suggestions to patients on the steps to follow based on their queries and redirect them to a human agent if necessary. 

For example, voice virtual assistants can be trained to answer common questions related to COVID-19 and advise callers on whether they need to self-isolate at home, or, seek professional help at a nearby hospital. There are even cases of hospitals using robots to check visitors’ temperatures, if they are wearing masks, assess the gravity of a case through a form, and then direct them to the appropriate department within a hospital. These options can help manage the influx of patients while minimizing contagion among staff.

The decision to automate a process must add to the employees’ workflow and improve the overall experience with a patient. For instance, creating a single interface that automatically logs and categorizes information on patients’ interactions with the system can help bring healthcare professionals up to speed with a case when it reaches them. This data can be collected from chat logs, phone call recordings, e-mails, first contact, or recurring appointments. Healthcare professionals can quickly consult this database to learn about how other health professionals have treated patients with similar conditions in the past and provide a better experience.

Automating these tedious tasks can save healthcare professionals time and energy that can be better applied where they can have the most impact. Through automation, institutions can also increase the available resources to invest in their employees, who will have more time for upskilling and ultimately be better equipped to perform their jobs.

Leaving it to the human agents

Humans are inherently social creatures who gain value from interacting with one another. In a healthcare setting, this is especially important, where patients often are calling or visiting in situations of stress and unease, and can, as a result, feel alienated. There are also certain processes that simply cannot be automated because they require a human agent’s expertise and critical thinking skills to be completed. 

Complex patient queries such as those that are uncommon or require significant human attention should not be automated. Even though AI can be used as a tool that quickly provides real-time data, the final decisions in these situations are made by a human agent. For example, AI can be used to save time reading CT scans, but the doctor will make the final diagnosis.

Situations that require human empathy run the risk of coming off as disingenuous and detached if automated. Delivering a hard diagnosis to a patient or bad news to family members are instances where the human touch is required.

The customer journey should relieve a patient of their concerns. However, if a call turns into an endless phone tree by getting redirected to a chain of automated responses, the patient will end their journey feeling uncared for and frustrated. It should be easy for the patient to be able to contact a health professional if necessary in order to feel heard.

Lastly, it is crucial to avoid an inefficient operational loop that will only take away from the patient’s experience. Suppose the automated processes cannot be integrated seamlessly with one another and other tools. In that case, patients will be repeating themselves at every stage of their journey, even when an issue is redirected to a human agent. This situation creates an unpleasant experience and undermines the goal of automation.

An alliance between automation tools and human agents

Although automation has some clear advantages, not everything in the customer or patient journey should be automated. The power of automation can only be genuinely harnessed if it is balanced with human interaction. Automation can help institutions or companies operate more efficiently and optimize their resources. Still, the human agent is a crucial piece in orchestrating these operations and avoiding alienation in an industry where human interactions are paramount. AI should be seen as a tool for human agents to use, and not their replacement.

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