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Oct 24, 2019

Why your doctor will go digital in the future

Estimated reading time: 7-9 minutes

Fast forward three or so years. It’s a Saturday afternoon and you’ve a million things to do but you’ve had a splitting headache for a few days now. Instead of driving the half hour in traffic to your doctor’s surgery and waiting for an emergency appointment, you jump online and book a virtual telehealth call. In the meantime, you check your temperature, heart rate and blood pressure and update your digital health record (DHR) with the results. Within the hour you’re being ‘seen’ by your doctor at home, who has accessed your health record, and is talking you through your symptoms…
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Faster, better and smarter care

In the future, a lot of the care we receive as patients will be based on the advanced technologies used by hospitals and the personal health data we share with our doctors. There’s no doubt that connected, digital technologies have the potential to deliver care faster, more cost effective, better and smarter – from identifying patterns in disease occurrence and speeding up diagnoses to enabling better access to care, especially for people with chronic conditions or who live in remote locations.

 

Healthcare can learn from early digital adopters like the retail, travel and hospitality industries on how to use technology to transform the business. Think of Uber, one of the first companies to instantly connect customers with services via mobile devices, that revolutionized the way people travel. Airbnb, Amazon and Netflix have similarly transformed how we book hotel rooms, shop and watch movies online.

The rise of the data-hungry, digitally savvy patient

As people, we are already dependent on technology to make our lives easier, from Skyping with friends and family to banking online. Now, the digitally savvy patient is on the rise. When talking to our customers across the globe, I hear that individuals increasingly want access to their own health data – either through their digital health record or user-friendly health tech devices.

 

More people are tracking health metrics – like heart rate, fitness levels and quality of sleep – using wearables or smartphone apps. According to Philips’ 2019 Future Health Index (FHI), 34 percent of individuals who use health-related digital technology do so to feel more in control of their health. 

 

The FHI findings also report that, of the individuals who don’t currently have access to their digital medical record, or don’t know if they have access, 63 percent want that access, and 64 percent want their HCPs to have access too.

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I expect this level of interest and control over individual health will only increase, as patients seek to empower themselves independently of their doctors. For me personally, when I am running I measure my heartrate and depending on the training goal, I can make adaptations to my training. The same will happen with basic individual health measurement, enabling you to makes small practical adaptation to your lifestyle.

 

However, for technology to truly change how care is delivered, healthcare professionals (HCPs) need to embrace this more ‘proactive,’ digitally savvy patient, and start to view technology as an untapped resource.

Healthcare professionals are getting into tech, but have a way to go

Healthcare professionals already using technologies in their work are quickly realizing the benefits. According to the FHI, 76 percent of HCPs globally are using digital health records. Of these, 69 percent say the care they provide has improved; 59 percent report better patient outcomes; and 64 percent say they feel more satisfied in their work.
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This is good news, and a step in the right direction. However, I believe we’ve still got a way to go. Telehealth, for example, is a truly transformative digital process, but it’s far from business as usual in most clinics around the world. Similarly, HCPs are currently more comfortable using artificial intelligence for administrative purposes, rather than clinical ones where the impact can be game changing.

Learning from countries ahead of the curve

The recent FHI findings are showing that healthcare professionals in emerging countries such as China, India and Saudi Arabia are leading the way in digital technology use. 94 percent of clinicians in China report using digital health technologies and mobile health apps, followed by 88 percent in India and 85 percent in Saudi Arabia. Overall, these countries are leapfrogging others in the use of wearables, artificial intelligence and patient data to inform health decisions.

 

Research also shows that telehealth is used more in countries with fewer physicians per person, such as India and China, showing how the technology is already bridging the care gap in these countries. I believe there are there are many lessons we can learn from these ‘forerunner’ countries.

How to empower the ‘digital’ doctor

Despite recognizing technology’s benefits, HCPs still face barriers in ‘going digital,’ including a lack of funding and training, and concerns over data security and privacy. I believe that more work needs to be done to eliminate these barriers and encourage HCPs to fully embrace connected care and digital ways of working. I see the largest enablers here as:

 

  • Making HCPs feel more valued: we need to involve them more closely when deciding how to integrate technologies to promote a more favorable mindset towards digital tools.
  • Sharing more data: within the privacy boundaries as set per country, we need to start use data to drive better health care decisions.
  • Re-skilling and training: the industry needs to understand the skills HCPs will need in the next 10-15 years and train them to use data and technology alongside their clinical work.
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A glimpse into the future

So, what might tomorrow’s digitally savvy doctor look like? It’s quite likely that some will work side-by-side with autonomous ‘chatbots’ helping with tasks like taking a patient’s pulse. Others will prescribe ‘smart pills’ to patients with chronic health conditions that send wireless messages with real-time data. Surgeons in training meanwhile could use life-like robotic patients to practice on.

 

Things are already heading in this direction. We’re improving prenatal care in remote parts of India and Indonesia by providing midwives with smartphones and mobile ultrasounds. The midwives use the devices to monitor pregnant patients and share the data with specialists, who use it to diagnose and treat health issues that might otherwise go undetected.

 

Positive, life-changing scenarios like this are just the start; by connecting patients, healthcare professionals and technology, the possibilities to improve care are endless. However, for healthcare to truly transform, those at the heart of care delivery need to embrace the changes and possibilities ahead.

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Henk Siebren de Jong

Henk Siebren de Jong

Chief of International Markets

Henk Siebren de Jong is Executive Vice President and Chief of International Markets, and a member of the Royal Philips Executive Committee.
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