Digital Health: How Much Technology is Too Much?

Hospitals have been inundated or outfitted with technology in recent years, depending on your perspective as to which word is applicable. To some, digital health has been a boon for hospitals, providing a missing link between patients and doctors and giving the latter tools to produce the best possible outcomes. To others, however, medical professionals are now almost second fiddle to new products and systems.

Though there are certainly drawbacks to a health care industry that’s primarily driven by technology, the benefits of using an integrated digital health infrastructure are hard to ignore. So, let’s look at the pros and cons, and cut through the incendiary rhetoric that can stifle progress.

Part of the Problem is Terminology

While many people can identify some of the problems with the current health care system, a few people are likening these issues to another industry that followed an outdated model: that of cabs and personal transportation; people have begun to say “Uber for health care” to describe certain fixes.

Though there are similarities, such as having to wait for and track down a doctor (driver), waiting in line to see them, and paying a lot for a seemingly basic outcome, it is different, according to TechCrunch. The difference lies in the nature of health care, as it is not a transaction-based, one-time interaction business. The best health care outcomes tend to be those that come from a constant stream of communication and continual care.

TechCrunch notes that instead of simply creating a fix-all app to transform the doctor-patient experience, people should look to break down the barriers between patients and primary care physicians. Asking for the “Uber of health care” is only going to muddle the problem, not lead to any solutions.

Technology should serve as the bridge between patients and physicians, as strong relationships will transform the way in which outcomes are generated – not simply an easier, one-time interaction.

Alternative Solutions to Bridge the Patient Gap

Primary care providers Iora Health and Qliance have proven that this type of health care model works, as they have demonstrated outstanding results. By bridging the gap between patients and their care providers, numerous opportunities will emerge:

(1) Physicians will have the time and financial freedom to innovate and experiment with new, easy, and convenient tools and technologies, as well as methods, to create strong patient-physician relationships.

(2) It will give patients the ability to form strong relationships with doctors, on their own terms and in ways that leverage the latest technology to give both parties numerous options and flexibility.

(3) Perhaps most importantly, it will open up the door to entrepreneurs and VC-backed ventures to build new tools and technologies that will enhance patient-physician relationships, not undermine them.

As Dr. James L. Madara, executive vice president and CEO of the American Medical Association, outlined in a speech at the AMA annual meeting in 2016, physicians need to work with these tech entrepreneurs to demonstrate their needs and cut through the salesy jargon in order to get products that will help to bridge this gap. He likened some of the technologies that complicate things, and not clarify the process, to the age-old snake oil practices of deceptive salesmen and tradesmen.

“First, we’re conveying to manufacturers what physicians actually need,” said Madara. “Digital tools that add layers onto our day are not helpful—those are digital snake oil, we hate them—hate, hate, hate them. In contrast, digital tools that would simplify and better organize our lives, and also adapt to the natural variations in our practices—those that would free more time for patient interactions—that’s what we want. Tools like that we’d love—love, love, love. There are too few of these today.”

Overloaded Doctors and Poorly Treated Patients

The tools that don’t help physicians, and the sense that these medical professionals have
been inundated with ineffective and complicated technology and systems, are the
source of much of the criticism of digital health. According to The Washington
Post, doctors and nurses are being hit with too many notifications and tech-based
interruptions, and this can severely affect health outcomes for patients.

This issue, known as “alert fatigue,” has coincided with the advent of electronic health record notifications, and doctors are saying that the number of pop-up messages has become unmanageable.

“When providers are bombarded with warnings, they will predictably miss important things,” David Bates, a senior vice president at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, told the Post.

Building A Digital Foundation for Health Care

So, does this mean it’s going to be an uphill battle for doctors and nurses from here on
out? Will the notifications reach a point of no return? Though some think the answer could be yes, Dr. Halamka, CIO and dean for Technology at Harvard Medical School, offered a rebuttal to this snake oil idea, according to MedCity News.“There is no snake oil. We created the digital foundation that is a prerequisite for the next generation of tools.

One of the tools that he outlined will focus on supporting care management workflow [which] requires tools that do not yet exist in the marketplace to enroll cohorts of patients and provide precision-medicine inspired care plans for each of them, supported by a customer relationship management system for healthcare.”

This is where tech companies need to work with, and not around, physicians, to bridge this gap that Halamka so eloquently outlined. By taking into account both of these perspectives, hopefully health care technology can fulfill its promise of helping, not hindering, care delivery.