Paradigm shift coming for digital health

IT-enabled care 'is no longer nice-to-have; it's fundamental,' says PwC report
By Erin McCann
11:13 AM
Digital healthcare is no longer a reality of the future. It's happening now. And, as the industry moves toward full digitization, previously resistant clinicians are slowly, but gradually, getting on board with embracing new digital technologies. 
At least that's according to a new report put out by the folks at PwC, who highlight a telling shift in clinicians' attitudes toward digital technology, especially when it comes to connecting with patients. 
In the report, PwC officials surveyed 1,000 industry clinicians – including physicians, nurse practitioners and physician assistants – to gather a sense of how they perceive digital health nowadays. And the takeaways? In many arenas, most clinicians are on board. 
For one, both clinicians and patients seem to agree that putting diagnostic tools into the hand of the patient is powerful – and reliable. About 42 percent of physicians are comfortable relying on at-home test results to prescribe medication.
The lion's share of physicians also said they believe digital health tools can help boost the patient-doc interaction, with 50 percent of them saying telehealth visits could replace more than 10 percent of in-office patient visits, and nearly as many consumers indicated they would communicate with caregivers online.
Further, most clinicians view consumer health apps to manage chronic disease and wellness as a good thing, with about 65 percent of them saying they would prescribe an app to help patients manage specific chronic conditions. It's good timing, as the percent of consumers who say they have a healthcare or wellness app on their mobile device increased 16 percent from last year, now up to 28 percent. 
Mobile health also deserved a shout out, with the lion's share of clinicians, 79 percent, saying that mobile devices can better help clinicians coordinate care with their patients. Some 50 percent of consumers agreed. 
"Digitally-enabled care is no longer nice-to-have; it's fundamental for delivering high quality care," said Daniel Garrett, health information technology practice leader, PwC US, in a press statement announcing report findings. "Just as the banking and retail sectors today use data and technology to improve efficiency, raise quality, and expand services, healthcare must either do the same or lose patients to their competitors who do so."
"The adoption and integration of digital technology with existing healthcare processes has not yet fulfilled its potential to transform care and value for patients," added Simon Samaha, MD, principal at PwC, in a prepared statement. "The next five years will be critical, with leaders emerging from those who use digital technology to innovate and revamp the interactions between consumers, providers and payers."
There are actionable items, however, as the report outlined. Digital health carries with it significant barriers and limitations. Data sharing, security issues, consent and the lack of interoperability remain serious challenges for the industry as a whole. 
As the report details, PwC's recommendations for healthcare companies include:
  • Generating actionable insights through analytics to yield better outcomes: Analytics will enable caregivers to develop customized care plans for individuals while also managing care for and improving the health of patient populations. They will also help caregivers identify high-risk targets and anticipate problems.
  • Using the increasing amounts of data to rethink the workforce and workflows: Providers must tap technology and adjust the workforce to reduce costs and improve quality, rethinking who and how to staff based on technology. Digital technology can be used to ensure physicians are practicing at the top of their licenses and leverage care extenders, such as nurse practitioners, when appropriate.    
  • Targeting digital interventions for where they make the most sense: Before developing new clinical protocols, health systems must determine where digital interventions are better than traditional, in-office visits based on patients' specific complaints or conditions.