In the busy and demanding landscape of healthcare, clinical support visits play a pivotal role in facilitating effective patient care. These visits involve healthcare professionals, usually nurses or physician assistants, providing assistance to both physicians and patients in various aspects of patient management. In this article, we explore what clinical support visits entail, the benefits they bring to both doctors and patients, and how the integration of medical artificial intelligence (AI) can further optimize these interactions.
A clinical support visit is a meeting between a patient and a healthcare professional for the purpose of providing services or assistance outside of official doctor visits. The professional is generally a member of the practice’s healthcare team who is not the general practitioner, such as a nurse, physician assistant, physiotherapist, or pharmacist. The appointment often takes the form of performing tests, but may also include health education or assistance with smaller medical care, such as bandage replacement.
Clinical support visits offer several advantages for physicians, foremost of which is the opportunity to provide patients with more attentive care during their appointments. Family physicians are famously overworked, which can lead to burnout and less attentive care. While more comprehensive measures are required to offer practitioners the support they need, clinical support visits can provide at least some relief from the extreme workloads often expected of doctors, freeing up their time for more complex and involved cases. The reduced workload may also contribute to less burnout, and a healthier work life balance.
Clinical support visits may also allow the entire healthcare team to contribute their expertise, leading to more coordinated care for patients and improved cooperation within the clinic. General practitioners can thus benefit from the diverse perspectives of their team, also helping team members feel more valued and raising their job satisfaction in turn.
This model of work also offers many benefits for patients, first of which is the opportunity for faster appointments. Clinical support visits are often shorter and more readily available than doctor’s consultations, boosting the chances that patients will be able to receive some care in a timely manner. Wait times for physician appointments are a known and growing issue, one survey finding that the average wait time for an appointment in 2022 was 26 days, with wait times in some locales exceeding 200 days. A more accessible clinical support visit can therefore lower patient frustration or treatment avoidance, and in some cases may improve patient outcomes. Patients can also benefit from the specific expertises of other healthcare professionals with specialized knowledge or abilities, who can provide targeted advice and support for the condition in question.
Clinical support visits can be used for preventative care, including screenings, vaccinations, and early detection of health problems. The increased availability of such visits allows for problems to be prevented or treated at early stages, as opposed to after they have developed into severe health issues.
Integrating medical artificial intelligence (AI) into clinical support visits has the potential to immensely improve primary care, whether this constitutes assistance with administrative work, or with clinical needs. Administrative AI may take the forms of dynamic appointment scheduling, which takes into account appointment patterns and patients needs, or assistance with billing. AI may also assist with patient triage, analyzing symptoms; clinical decision support, suggesting diagnoses and treatment options; or medication management, suggesting personalized treatment plans to optimize medication effectiveness and minimize side effects. All these help clinicians provide more timely and organized care, cutting down on wait times and workloads.
One example for how AI is transforming what can be done in a clinical support visit are diabetic eye exams. FDA-cleared AI can now diagnose diabetic retinopathy from retinal images fully autonomously and without the need for a doctor or specialist overread, allowing the health providers at the clinic to perform the procedure as part of a clinical support visit. All that is needed is a primary care provider - typically a nurse or medical assistant - to obtain a retinal image from each eye, using a fully automated retinal camera, and send the images to the AI which diagnoses them on the spot. As AI takes over more and more diagnostic tasks, clinical support visits will become an even more significant part of patient care.
To summarize, clinical support visits play a crucial role in advancing healthcare and improving the wellbeing of patients and doctors alike, allowing for increased availability, improved clinical outcomes, and more comprehensive care. Healthcare providers may benefit from improved workloads and cooperation in clinics, while patients may experience a myriad of benefits, as discussed earlier. Given the increasing understanding of preventative care, clinics would also do well to focus on this during clinical support visits, preventing future health issues and allowing doctors the time and attention needed to treat more complicated or involved cases. Medical AI may further improve the efficacy and abilities of clinical support visits, both in fields of administrative work and in direct patient care and information analysis.