How health technology can (believe it or not) humanize medicine
At first glance, it seems incongruous: Can healthcare technology humanize healthcare? But how? Wouldn’t the contrary be true? Wouldn’t tech’s foray into this sector make medicine more impersonal? Wouldn’t the use of telehealth platforms, which became more frequent during the pandemic, put more distance than ever between the provider and the patient?
Not really. The argument now is that technology allows for an ever greater connection, a constant and cohesive connection. As a Deloitte team put it in a February 2020 article on the Modern Healthcare website:
“(Virtual care) works in and around a patient’s life, as opposed to their illness, to provide care when, where and how they need and want it. In addition, virtual health is making its way into the daily routines of consumers by being incorporated into electronic devices associated with life (eg, smartphones and personal computers) rather than care for disease. “
One of the members of this Deloitte team is Summer Knight, the organization’s Managing Director in Life Sciences and Healthcare Consulting. In her book “Humanizing Healthcare: Hardwire Humanity into the Future of Health”, she convincingly argues that technology bridges the gap between patients and healthcare professionals. In fact, she believes more technology, not less, is crucial to humanizing the industry.
She made this point clear on the Finding Genius podcast in early summer 2021. Knight mentioned that a digital healthcare activation platform would “bring” patients and providers together, and provide “a point. ‘tangible connection’ that a visit to a doctor’s office cannot. In addition, she specifies, such technology creates a “therapeutic alliance” between the consumer, his support system and the healthcare team.
There is ample indication that it is on the money. The Deloitte team noted that long before the pandemic – all the way back in 2016, in fact – spending in the virtual health market is expected to reach $ 3.5 billion by 2022.
The epidemic changed the situation dramatically, as seven in 10 Americans were suspicious of doctor’s office visits and embraced virtual care. These visits represented 70% of appointments in the first months of the crisis (compared to 8% previously). This is a promising development, as patients had long discovered that while virtual appointments were shorter, they allowed for greater interaction with physicians, as well as more direct involvement of consumers in their own care.
Studies have shown that telehealth visits have become much less frequent in the last few months of 2020, dropping to 30% of all appointments, but it’s clear nonetheless that the technology is being built into the healthcare system. Consider, for example, the use of bedside tablets. Before the outbreak, they were first used by residents for entertainment and relaxation, but became a vital communication link with loved ones when government-imposed closures were instituted.
Richard Mohnk, associate IT director for operations at Bayhealth, told Becker’s Hospital Review that such tablets have proven to be a “game changer” in his facility, and while Steven Smith, IT director at NorthShore University HealthSystem, does ‘would not go that far, he told the same outlet that “adjusting procedures and providing this functionality so quickly during the pandemic … has helped preserve and improve human life.”
Technology can only be expected to continue to evolve, to address a physician shortage and to meet the needs of an aging population in the years to come. According to a new report from the Association of American Medical Colleges, the U.S. population, which stood at 328 million in 2019, is expected to reach 363 million by 2034, an increase of 10.6%. However, the population aged 65 and over is expected to increase by 42.4%.
This same report indicates that there will be a shortage of 37,800 to 124,000 physicians by the same year. In other words, there will almost certainly be more people with chronic illnesses and fewer people to care for them.
But time-saving (not to mention life-saving) gadgets can be expected to fill the gap, while also improving the connections mentioned above. The Harvard Business Review, for example, believes that the technology is able to achieve the latter goal by being friendly to patients and providers, actively engaging all parties, and offering factual information.
Understand that healthcare technology has often been viewed with suspicion. Throughout the 1700s, there were concerns that the stethoscope would strain the bonds between doctor and patient. But those concerns were unfounded then, and they are now. When used correctly, technology, far from breaking these bonds, only strengthens them and improves the patient experience.