Op-Ed: Humans are a barrier to digital health

Digital technologies have transformed the very fabric of our society. The way we talk, move, work, save and spend has changed in the face of this innovation. But the way we treat health care? Overall, it’s still painfully analog.

This is not to discredit the multibillion-dollar digital health industry: to be clear, all corners of the healthcare journey have seen remarkable innovations – from artificial intelligence to next-generation tools that support the healthcare system. diagnosis, treatment and management of disease.

But these technologies are applied piecemeal, here and there, but not everywhere. Unlike banking or logistics, where it seems the whole industry has gone universally digital, healthcare is caught between two worlds – yesterday and today. One of what was and what could be.

Humans, the ultimate barrier to digital transformation

Technology doesn’t seem to be the bottleneck; we have no shortage of gadgets and gadgets worthy of companies with more and more regulatory support to make sure they are working. Instead, the barriers to digital transformation in healthcare are often very human. A recent study by McKinsey and Company, for example, has shown that mindset and culture are among the biggest barriers to the influence of digital health.

Both obstacles require digital literacy to be addressed – something that has been overlooked in many strategies and conversations around the digital transformation of healthcare. Navigating the complex and ever-evolving digital health ecosystem has quickly become a new and vital skill, so if we want technologies to catalyze change, we need to educate and train the humans who use them.

We also need to make sure that we use technology responsibly: new solutions appear every day, many of them touting unproven claims. This adds to the noise of digital health. Making the most of emerging technologies and existing solutions means that all stakeholders must learn to assess the value that these solutions provide to patients in order to reduce noise and incorporate the right ones at the right time.

Three dimensions of meaningful training for providers

Provider training can (and should) take place in several ways, but the most important part is that it is structured. As it is, many vendors are entering digital health with a try by fire, adapt, or death attitude. But that’s not how we train providers in conventional therapies, so that shouldn’t be how we approach digital health education.

Training is not only important for physicians, but also for other players in the health and social care ecosystem, including pharmacists, nurses, social workers and other patient advocates. Regardless of the audience, digital health education can generate meaningful learning opportunities in all three dimensions of formal training:

  • Peer-to-peer awareness: Community learning – such as in-person mentoring or social media sharing – can create a safe space for dialogue around digital adoption in practice. This can apply to both individual patient care and the health of the population. Keep in mind that with digital health literacy, it’s not just young professionals who can learn from their elders; it is often the reverse.
  • Formal education: In addition to the medical school curriculum, digital health CMEs can help strengthen provider literacy. The opportunities are also replete with existing infrastructure that helps physicians keep abreast of advancements in their field, such as liaison relationships with pharmaceutical or digital technology companies.
  • Medical directives: Incorporating evidence-based solutions into traditional guidelines and care pathways could help providers understand when to consider a digital tool in conjunction with conventional care planning. Many organizations have done just that when issuing telemedicine guidelines amid COVID-19, for example.

Still, the ubiquity of digital tools in the clinic – along with manuals, training, and guidelines for using them – can pose a risk of burnout. To overcome these burdens, digital innovators must create tools with user knowledge and integration in mind: why build 10 apps that each do one thing when you can build one that does all of them?

Education without sacrificing the humanity of health care

Equally important is the need to educate patients, caregivers and our citizens more generally. From encouraging the use of healthy lifestyle apps and “gamified” membership programs to exploring the role of wearable devices in everyday life, hospitals and providers can help. people to adopt and thrive through digital health tools. More than ever, digital tools can underpin effective population and preventive health strategies.

But that comes with challenges. The healthcare model is about taking care – fixing broken parts – not coaching others to help themselves. These can make providers uncomfortable, such as being asked to do something they have not been trained to do or by giving too much caregiving power to technology that marginalizes important human aspects of care. care delivery. Additionally, with reimbursement models as they are, providers may not have an incentive to do so.

And yet digital health solutions can indeed be inherently human if the outlook changes. Professionals need education on what matters to patients, not just what concerns them. Health systems, in collaboration with governments and / or payers, should aspire to increase digital health literacy of its population to support prevention strategies. Technologies can fulfill a complementary role to surround sound in supporting health that one-time, recurring patient encounters simply do not.

Despite the complications of digital health, we need to measure

Even if health systems use tools and training to provide support, they will not know they are succeeding without measure. It is reminiscent of an old adage attributed to management guru Peter Drucker: if you don’t measure it, you can’t handle it.

However, measuring the mastery of digital health is tricky. Organizations and municipalities have long self-assessed their own tech culture, but taking individual action – where patients and providers can understand their unique strengths and weaknesses – is easier said than done.

Add to that the reimbursement challenges: When physicians are paid by activity-based metrics, it can drown out digital health contributions. These systemic concerns require systemic solutions – but with the drive for value-based care, health technologies may soon have even more possibilities.

Despite these complications, we must measure – and many strategies have emerged to make this possible. An example is the EHealth Literacy Questionnaire (eHLQ), an assessment tool to measure consumer literacy. Going forward, it will be up to both healthcare systems and digital innovators to keep measurement in mind when developing and deploying new tools.

Healthcare will always be human

The technology is promising, but let’s be clear: health is and always will be human.

And while digital health can improve many areas of healthcare delivery, it shouldn’t be seen as something separate or different. An integrated experience combines the human aspects of healthcare with the power of digital technologies. With the right tools, training, and measurement, the two can work together seamlessly as two halves of a stronger, more life-saving whole.

Mark Duman, MRPharmS, is a recovering clinician and current Managing Director and Chief of Patients at MD Healthcare Consultants. He is a proud patient advocate who tries to make healthcare more consumer-centric.

Jacob LaPorte, PhD, is a former chemist, former Mckinsey & Company consultant, passionate about leading digital transformations to improve patient health care. He founded and directs the Biome Novartis.




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