How AI and self-care make up for practitioner scarcity

Demand for healthcare services continues to skyrocket. Is limited growth in clinician ranks triggering a talent gap? Raw numbers suggest such a gap already exists; deeper analysis tells another story.

Let’s start by taking stock of the actual discrepancy between existing service needs and the number of available providers. A study by the Association of American Medical Colleges reveals a stark gap between healthcare service demand and the number of full-time equivalent (FTE) clinicians.

As the population both grows and ages, this disparity only gets wider by 2030. So why doesn’t this portend a major crisis?

Accenture research has quantified 17 distinct variables impacting the practitioner-patient issue. Together with data from a broad range of sources, such as Accenture’s Workforce Automation Predictor, they reveal not a shortage but talent equilibrium in healthcare’s future.

How will this come about? It will require working differently than we do today. We see it happening in two ways:

Patients embracing self-care: By 2030, our research shows up to 10 percent of existing patient-service demand being met via self-care.

Tech-enabled tools like biometric devices and wearables have already reached widespread adoption; nearly two-thirds of physicians now say they would prescribe an app to help patients manage chronic diseases.

Our analysis reveals that a care model comprising an annual physician exam and technology-enabled self-management the rest of the year can save time equivalent to 24,000 primary care physicians (PCPs). As self-care becomes more widespread, and more advanced in reach and scope, providers will enjoy a greater ability to institute highly personalized treatment plans to their patients, further bridging staffing shortfalls.

Automation taking charge: While it ties into technology advancing the cause of patient self-care, automation is also its own trend worth highlighting. In brief, Accenture predicts that by 2030, 25 percent of current healthcare tasks will be automated.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is already a major driver of the automation revolution in healthcare, a surging trend that will continue as both technology and uptake advance. As AI-powered automation merges into the mainstream, it will eliminate much of the talent gap we see growing between healthcare demand and clinician supply.

At present, 17 percent of physician activity is filled up by administrative activities alone. Today’s digital advances will free up tomorrow’s healthcare professionals to concentrate their energies more exclusively on patient engagement and personalized care. AI will simultaneously enhance practitioner decision-making via greater use of cognitive computing. This will allow clinicians to spend more time treating patients, combining data with clinical judgment to enhance outcomes, and engaging more closely with extended care teams.

How should healthcare organizations focus on the changing nature of practitioner/patient demographics? Accenture recommends they begin by undertaking a three-step plan to nurture and retain an adaptive, agile workforce:

  1. Redesign talent strategies. Begin to plan around which workforce capabilities best address patient needs as digital tools and self-care become more central to the care model.
  2. Build digital muscle. Incrementally embed a stronger organization-wide focus on data and digital that improves efficiency and enhances outcomes via better, faster decision-making.
  3. Shape a winning culture. Foster a culture of innovation, hospitality and agility central to the successful healthcare organization of tomorrow.

Shoring up tomorrow’s talent gap requires working differently than we do now. Such new work models are already taking distinct form. The healthcare organizations that embrace them first will be best positioned for future success.

Kaveh Safavi

Senior Managing Director – Consulting, Global Health

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