AI Tool Helps Physician Group Manage Prescription Refills

Posted on April 25, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

Most of the time, when we hear about AI projects people are talking about massive efforts spanning millions of records and many thousands of patients. A recent blog item, however, suggests that AI can be used to improve comparatively modest problems faced by physician groups as well.

The case profiled in the blog involves Western Massachusetts-based Valley Medical Group, which is using machine learning to manage medication refills. The group, which includes 115 providers across four centers, implemented a product known as Charlie, a cloud-based tool made by Healthfinch 18 months ago. (I should note, at this point, that the blog maintained is by athenaHealth, which probably has a partnership with Healthfinch. Moving on…)

Charlie is a cloud-based tool which automates the process of prescription refills by integrating with EHRs. Charlie processes refill requests much like a physician or pharmacist would, but more quickly and probably more thoroughly as well.

According to the blog item, Charlie pulls in refill requests from the practice’s EHR then adds relevant patient data to the requests. After doing so, Charlie then runs the requests through an evidence-based rules engine to detect whether the request is in protocol or out of protocol. It also detects duplicates. errors and other problems. Charlie can also absorb specific protocols which let it know what to look for in each refill request it processes.

After 18 months, Valley’s refill process is far more efficient. Of the 10,000 refill requests that Valley gets every month, 60% are handled by a clerical person and don’t involve a clinician. In addition, clerical staff workloads have been cut in half, according to the practice’s manager of healthcare informatics.

Another benefit Valley saw from rolling out Charlie with that they found out which certain problems lay. For example, practice leaders found out that 20% of monthly refill requests were duplicate requests. Prior to implementing the new tool, practice staff spent a lot of time investigating the requests or worse, filling them by accident.

This type of technology will probably do a lot for medium-sized to larger practices, but smaller ones probably can’t afford to invest in this kind of technology. I have no idea what Healthfinch charges for Charlie, but I doubt it’s cheap, and I’m guessing its competitors are charging a bundle for this stuff as well. What’s more, as I saw at #HIMSS18, vendors are still struggling to define the right AI posture and product roadmap, so even if you have a lot of cash buying AI is still a somewhat risky play.

Still, if you’re part of a small practice that’s rethinking its IT strategy, it’s good to know that technologies like Charlie exist. I have little doubt that over time — perhaps fairly soon — vendors will begin offering AI tools that your practice can afford. In the meantime, it wouldn’t hurt to identify processes which seem to be wasting a lot of time or failing to get good results. That way, when an affordable tool comes along to help you’ll be ready to go.