While it is tempting to believe that the experiences of other industries can be replicated in healthcare, it’s also important to ask if the key gatekeepers of health, the doctors, are really ready to harness digital health technology in its myriad forms.
We live in interesting times. Over the last 20 years, the internet has flattened the world in many ways, increasing transparency for consumers in multiple industries.
Cloud computing has unleashed a series of new companies that strive to enhance transparency, access and choice for consumers in industries as disparate as retail, travel and banking. Many of these changes are inspiring governments and entrepreneurs to explore how health consumers can be empowered in order to improve their experience and bring down healthcare costs- or at least help control healthcare inflation.
While it is tempting to believe that the experiences of other industries can be replicated in healthcare, it’s also important to ask if the key gatekeepers of health, the doctors, are really ready to harness technology in its myriad forms.
The value of bringing technology into healthcare is apparent. Digitizing data promises to place the control of medical records into the hands of the patients, while data analytics holds the potential to improve the speed and quality of clinical decision-making.
Yet many doctors struggle to adopt new technologies.
The NHS spent over 10 billion pounds in the UK on digitizing their systems, yet the system failed on many accounts due to a lack of engagement with doctors and clinical care flows.
Several studies have explored the impact on electronic data systems on emergency physicians, one of them finding that doctors spent more time on data entry than any other activity, including direct patient care—with emergency physicians spending 43% of their time in data entry activities.
All of this has a significant impact on engagement with patients.
More and more patients are expressing frustration at doctors spending more time typing than listening to them. There are an increasing number of reports highlighting that the requirements for patient data entry are actually reducing the number of patients doctors are able to attend to. In our own study of physicians in urban India, over 50% of doctors expressed concerns about the impact of technology on their own time commitments.
Doctors from around the world continue to struggle with electronic systems and many find them more onerous than empowering.
Our work with doctors in urban India has shown us that doctors are clearly aware of the potential benefits of technology. The challenge is in managing the transition seamlessly.
A recent Medscape survey of physicians from the US found over 46% doctors reporting burn-out, increasing from the 40% reported in 2013. One of the key causes of the burnout was increased computerization and workload. Physician burnout has been linked to lower quality of patient care.
So, while the role of technology in improving clinical care cannot be argued, current electronic systems tend to reduce the number of patients doctors are able to see, while also diluting the level of engagement between the doctors and patients. This has obvious implications for patient engagement as well.
Would patients entrust their own health and that of their loved ones with doctors who are tired and busy typing, rather than listening to their needs?
Most technology implementations assume patient-centred innovations will automatically influence adoption within the doctor communities. This would be true for a consumer-driven market. But with an abysmally low number of healthcare workers available for our growing needs, healthcare remains a suppliers' market. This means the healthcare consumer may not be able to drive technology adoption by doctors as quickly as may happen in the travel or retail industries.
For doctors to embrace new ways of clinical care, technologies have to hold a clear value proposition for them.
While the medium-long term value of technology adoption remains clear, new solutions need to solve doctors’ problems and make their lives easier in the near term. That alone (besides regulation) will drive adoption. Else, the promise of technology to provide significant leaps in clinical patient care may remain unfulfilled.
The nuviun industry network is intended to contribute to discussion and stimulate debate on important issues in global digital health. The views are solely those of the author.