The fear of automation, artificial intelligence, and technological advancements, in general, is a tale as old as time, or at least the entire time I have been alive. During the last few decades, we have even seen Hollywood push this agenda with films such as The Matrix, Ex Machina, and I, Robot suggesting to automation alarmists that technology will one day lead to catastrophic consequences for humanity. Because of these fears, production of the most common-sense technologies has often led to push back from the industry. And there’s no better case study than the ATM.
When ATMs were first introduced in the 1970s, there was a hesitancy within the macro-environment that ATMs would equate to one thing – unemployment for bank tellers. And even though the benefits of automating cash withdrawals were clear, fear alone left many fighting against such innovation.
It wasn’t the doomsday scenario for jobs as many believed. In fact, it was quite the opposite.
When ATMs were introduced, the average urban bank branch required approximately 21 tellers. The introduction of the ATM initially decreased this number to about 13 tellers. But not all news was bad news, as branch operation costs were significantly reduced. As operating became cheaper, the demand for branch offices increased, resulting in an increased demand for tellers. Believe it or not, the increase in demand for bank tellers was enough to offset the job losses that otherwise would have occurred!
I can’t help but relate this to what is happening in healthcare today. I am sure you have seen it. Automation. Artificial Intelligence. Machine Learning. These “buzz words” have hit the marketing world like a freight train, and many wonder if this is a trend or is here to stay. With staffing issues at healthcare organizations crushing operational budgets, hospitals have been left to decide between outsourcing services or automating monotonous work efforts. And I have a hunch the decision to automate tasks will provide significantly more opportunities than issues.
After all, the purpose of healthcare organizations is to provide excellent patient care to the communities they serve. Yet, a lot of money goes toward human workers performing tasks like medical coding, insurance prior-auth, claims processing, charge reconciliation, and scheduling and managing appointments. I support automating these tasks through technology – which you see being implemented today by HIT companies around the nation. Of course, not all these problems are easy to solve, but it is important to consider the ATM case study when envisioning a world with automated healthcare processes. There will always be a need for clinicians, doctors, and essential staff. Automation may create more competitive pay for clinicians while allowing organizations to open more hospitals and clinics.
Let’s refuse to let fear of technology and automation prevent us from the purpose and goal of healthcare. Let us make healthcare more accessible and affordable by allowing healthcare organizations to focus on the right things.
Technology can save lives if given a chance.
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