Medicine has been one of the slowest industries to adopt technology. For the last decade, physicians across the United States and in all specialties and settings have been bombarded with fancy presentations, promises of ease of use and integration, and unfounded “data-based” assurances of future improved patient outcomes, workflow efficiencies, and practice cost savings. Wowed by the opportunity to improve the flow of their workday and patients’ health, physicians bought in to many of these firms. This came mostly at their own expense. Physicians soon, as a group, were largely and abjectly disappointed in a broad range of these products and the outcomes. These disappointments only led to abandoning the physician’s investment and an increasing lack of trust in people selling the endless range of technology solutions, big promises, and improved health outcomes. In short, physicians have been burned and are now highly reluctant to engage.
Developers, designers, UX/UI professionals, and executives rarely, if ever, consult physicians when developing their products, let alone perform user and design testing with the health care professionals intended to use their products each day. Think about the fact that we have a term called “turn or swivel the chair.” This is because the vast majority of tech solutions introduced sit outside the workflow, including a vast list of physician portals and apps, that require the provider to go outside of their EHR workflow.
Very few health tech firms are run by executives who clearly care about outcomes and the health of patients more than they care about profits. A paltry few are run by physicians who have on the ground expertise with the problem the proposed tech solution is meant to address. In many instances, a workaround is done with non-physicians and health system executives who have zero practical experience in how the tech will be used and how it will impact decision-making and outcomes. The costly technology may raise billions of dollars in capital and even deliver rapid sales and huge returns to investors, but physician-users benefit little day to day. Put simply, physicians are treated as commodities in the supply chain leading to profits, and they know it.
A way forward
There is little doubt in my mind that current and future technology has and will have the promise to improve health access, improve outcomes, and lower costs while reducing health inequality. However, to make it work, physicians and other key clinical personnel must be involved in the process of ideation, development, testing and serve in leadership positions in the companies that are selling these solutions.
The tech solutions must then deliver on three objectives:
First, they must provide improved clinical outcomes. New firms can prove outcomes by building on an existing well-proven analog model and creating a scalable tech solution. Second, technology firms must engage academic entities to perform legitimate peer-reviewed research to prove their outcomes. Writing a paper about a study that was never IRB approved and then paying an online journal a few thousand dollars to publish it simply does not pass the sniff test of legitimacy. Third, the solutions must streamline the workflow and reduce the tech-related burden of physicians. I used to cringe when I heard the phrase “our tech lets doctors be doctors” because it presumes that physicians will not use it or will not understand it. As the CEO of a technology-supported maternity care management firm, I believe in building solutions that physicians will use that center on human interaction and delivers a better clinical experience, a better patient experience, and is proven to improve outcomes. Physicians did not go to medical school to learn how to create tickets and sit on the phone with a support technician thousands of miles away while the firm figures out its programming error. Physicians are experts in the practice of medicine. Most are not experts in managing the system trials, coordinating care, or troubleshooting tech failures.
Technology developers, health care system experts, public health, and data experts must join with physicians in the common goal of improving clinical outcomes for patients. Then physicians will want to re-engage with the health tech world, and a true partnership will exist. We will build amazing technology, build highly profitable companies while reducing overall health care system costs, and save lives.
Image credit: Shutterstock.com