Doctors Have a Digital Health Problem

Doctors Have a Digital Health Problem

Rapid advancements in digital health technology were supposed to complement the existing health-care system and improve patients’ care and well-being. Unfortunately, an intended solution can sometimes exacerbate the problem. In the current health-care milieu, technology that was designed to facilitate care can at times turn into an inhibiting force. The issue is multi-faceted and has a lot do with the organization of the current health-care system and various pressures put on health-care practitioners.

Unutilized Data from Wearables

Modern wearables collect a plethora of health-related information. However, this data often remains unused and gets discarded. Doctors who could potentially benefit from data from wearable technology — even those professionally trained to analyze the readings in a meaningful way — are routinely so inundated with work it is impossible for them to spend additional time reviewing data. Considering all the information consumer health digital devices now collect, it is simply not realistic and feasible for most physicians to shoulder this burden. Dr. Paul Abramson, a primary care physician in San Francisco, describes how patients can now bring with them reams of raw data their trackers had been collecting since their last appointment. These data spreadsheets are overwhelming, and they are also not necessarily always useful in the patient’s treatment process. The reality is many doctors in the United States are evaluated on their efficiency and usually have an allotted time constraint for each patient.

This reality makes it more difficult for doctors in the United States to add tasks to the diagnosis process.

Furthermore, doctors might require additional training to use new digital devices with their patients. Many are already tech-savvy, but wearables brought a whole new patient-doctor dynamic that might be foreign or in some cases not effective.

Not all Devices are Useful to Doctors

Reluctance to accept digital technology does not automatically suggest a doctor does not believe in progressive and updated health care. Many physicians recognize the potential health technology holds, however, they can have reservations when it comes to using technology that has not been validated and properly approved. Also, it is hard to determine whether patients are reliably following all instructions when collecting data. This would suggest wearables might not work for everyone and might not be appropriate for monitoring certain health conditions.

The FDA does not plan to regulate wearable devices that are used to promote general wellness such as physical fitness and stress monitoring. These so called “low-risk devices” have been scrutinized over their accuracy and ability to collect scientifically trustworthy data. Some devices require validation before they can be considered in health care and relied upon when making important health decisions (as previously reported by TechCrunch). 

Technology is Making Doctors Available 24/7

The arrival of digital technology and innovative patient/doctor communication platforms has made it harder for physicians to completely switch off and balance their lives.

Professionals in health care have some of the highest rates of employee burnout. According to the 2015 Medscape Physician Lifestyle Report, 46 percent of surveyed doctors reported they were experiencing burnout. Doctors, like everyone else, need activities that bring a sense of satisfaction, purpose and relaxation. The constant reminders, feeds and incoming messages that now enable a person to reach their care provider in real time can be difficult for a physician to ignore. These disruptive technologies have caused many to disconnect from other areas of their lives. A growing expectation for certain professionals, including doctors, is to be available any time of the day and respond promptly.

Some hospitals go as far as to evaluate doctors on patient satisfaction. Accessibility is part of this paradigm, so having personal time for renewal is becoming difficult for physicians to manage and negotiate when technology is so omnipresent.

Caring for people who are unwell in a somewhat dysfunctional health-care system creates stress of a special magnitude. It can be particularly difficult to leave work at “the office” and detach from professional duties when the expectation is you are always available. Now, technology can add an additional burden to an already overwhelming situation and possibly make it worse by increasing expectations and reducing health professionals’ free time.

If adoption and integration of digital health technology is to be successful, all these concerns need to be carefully approached and managed in a holistic way that recognizes and values that both the patient and doctor should live well.

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