Emergency departments have been experiencing a significant strain for a long time, with visits only increasing. With the rise in flu, COVID-19 and RSV cases, in addition to an increase in psychiatric symptoms, emergency wait times can be agonizing. A place that is supposed to be known for its immediate access to care has instead become known for its stressful and harrowing delays. 

Even with the holiday season behind us – a time that is typically known for longer wait times – we’re seeing a trend that these wait times are getting worse in general. For patients seeking urgent care, these delays can be excruciating, causing unnecessary anxiety and potentially worsening their health conditions.

These situations are not only stressful for patients, though. They’re tough on clinicians too. The issues with emergency operations significantly contribute to an already strained hospital system, plagued with staffing shortages and physician burnout. However, artificial intelligence (AI) holds the power to change this cycle, potentially making long emergency wait times a thing of the past.

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One area where AI is already making a difference is by streamlining hospital processes including billing and patient medical notes. A large burden for clinicians is documentation and inputting patient information into the electronic health record. Some studies cite that doctors spend as much as half of their time in those records, and only a quarter of their time engaging with patients.

AI can digitize encounters between clinicians and patients at the point of care by extracting data from natural clinician-patient conversations and automatically converting the data in real time to medical notes, which are seamlessly transferred to the records. Such technologies have been shown to save doctors up to three hours in their day.

With AI, streamlining processes can allow care teams to reduce average wait times during peak hours, so patients can experience quicker assessments, more timely interventions, and an overall improvement in care.

Processing information at speeds beyond human capability, AI puts the clinician-patient relationship front and center, ensuring that each patient receives timely care based on their specific needs.

Beyond significant and sustained productivity, AI can contribute to a more personalized and empathetic patient experience. For example, AI can organize and process vast amounts of medical data to provide healthcare professionals with a comprehensive understanding of each patient’s medical history and unique needs. AI can enable a more compassionate and informed approach to care. 

The emergency department is dynamic and unpredictable, with increased noise levels, multiple clinicians on a single case, and a very fast-paced environment. These challenges make it more complex to implement AI solutions in acute care settings. However, such technological advancements are already being used in the emergency departments by some of the largest health systems in the country.

While improvements are constantly being made and technology continuously advances, it is clear how transformative AI-powered medical documentation is and the power it holds in transforming emergency operations. The integration of AI into emergency operations introduces a new era of efficiency, precision and patient-centered care. 

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Enabling healthcare professionals to deliver more efficient and precise care, the ultimate vision of AI in emergency care is one of patient-centered efficiency, where unnecessary delays are eradicated, and every patient receives the care they need precisely when they need it.

AI’s ability to prioritize resources ensures that the emergency department operates at peak efficiency, especially during the holiday rush when hospitals see an average of over 6,000 people seeking emergency treatment. 

Resistance to change is expected, especially in the healthcare industry, where lives are on the line. However, the benefits are so significant that it is critical that we do not stop innovating on how to address these challenges and complexities.

The evolving mindset surrounding AI in emergency care and all care is marked by a realization that the innovative technology will not replace human expertise, but instead augment it. Understanding this, AI emerges as a powerful tool to help address physician and administrative burnout, which has been leading to turnover and staffing shortages.

A future where AI and human expertise work hand in hand, ensuring optimal patient care, is now a reality. As we look ahead, the promise of erasing wait times in the emergency room becomes not just a possibility, but an inevitability that we must achieve. While we are not quite there yet, with technological advancements at the rapid pace that we have been tracking as a society, the future looks bright.