Physicians demand more of digital tools, yet remain optimistic

Troy Parks , News Writer

Physician enthusiasm about digital health innovation requires a few “must haves” to turn that enthusiasm into adoption of digital tools in clinical practice. A new AMA survey shows that physician optimism toward digital health products is present across all ages, but the tools must be beneficial to clinical practice and not a burden. One way to make sure the tools are effective in practice is to get physicians involved in their development.

The AMA digital health survey asked 1,300 physicians about their motivations and requirements for integrating digital health tools in their practices. Conducted by Kantar TNS, one of the world’s largest research agencies, the survey asked physicians to answer questions regarding telemedicine and telehealth, mobile health, wearable, remote monitoring, mobile applications and many others.

The top three characteristics that attract physicians to digital health tools are that they improve work efficiency, increase patient safety and improve diagnostic ability. All three relate directly to patient care. If a tool does not make the work day run more efficiently, that affects patient care—and physicians strive every day to make sure their processes and tools work for patients above all else.

With 85 percent of physicians surveyed saying that digital health solutions are advantageous to patient care, it is clear that the medical community sees the potential of these tools.

But physicians need tools that fit within current systems and look to technology experts to meet those needs—tools that don’t take away time spent face-to-face with patients. When asked what requirements must be met by digital health tools of the future, three themes emerged:

  • Tools should be easy to use and as effective as current methods of patient care—if not more effective
  • Liability coverage, data privacy and work flow integration are essential
  • Physicians should be paid for time spent using the tools

If tools meet the requirements physicians have set forth, physicians anticipate rapid adoption and minimal disruption to their practice, the survey found. Nearly half of all physicians surveyed, regardless of age, stated high enthusiasm for new digital solutions.

When asked how much of an advantage digital health solutions provide to a physician’s ability to care for patients, 87 percent of primary care physicians said there was definite or some advantage and 83 percent of specialists agreed.

A prime example of a tool that has the potential to transform clinical practice is the electronic health record (EHR). Physicians have adopted EHR technologies at a rapid rate and recognize the promise of EHRs, but that promise has not been met. A study by the AMA and the RAND Corporation found that EHRs are one of the top sources of physician dissatisfaction. Yet, it also found that among the 30 participating practices, 28 were using an EHR at the time of the study.

Developers agree that physician involvement is critical to making sure digital health tools enhance care and have the longevity to improve patient health outcomes. Several recent AMA efforts focus on helping physicians take on a greater role in leading changes that will move technological innovations forward.

Physicians are willing to move health care technology into the future and are getting more involved each day. If you want to get involved, sign up for an invitation to the AMA Physician Innovation Network, which connects entrepreneurs to practicing physicians to consult on new ideas and technologies. The AMA offered a sneak peek of the Physician Innovation Network at Health 2.0 2016 and it will be live in October. The future of health IT is one that involves collaboration between developers and physicians and both sides have shown they are more than willing to work together to improve patient health and care delivery.

Some physicians are taking matters into their own hands. Frank Opelka, MD, a physician in Louisiana, is leading a statewide effort to create a larger cloud architecture where EHRs are the access point to using data for quality improvement and clinical support. Lawrence Kosinski, a gastroenterologist in Illinois, founded SonarMD, which he uses to track patients between visits.

At Health2047, a San Francisco-based health care innovation company, strategy, design and venture opportunities are developed in partnership with physicians, leading companies and entrepreneurs.

In an expanded partnership with MATTER, Chicago’s health care technology incubator, physicians and entrepreneurs collaborate on the development of new technologies, services and products in a simulated health care environment. This enables them to make sure that the number-one requirement of physicians—that the technologies work in practice—is met.

Though Health2047 and MATTER bring practicing physicians and entrepreneurs together, medical students also are tackling clinical problems by developing technological solutions at IDEA Labs, a student-run biotechnology incubator that helps the next generation of physicians and young entrepreneurs address unmet needs in health care delivery.

Physicians also play a key advisory role in the SMART project, created to ensure EHR systems work better for physicians and patients through the development of a flexible information infrastructure that allows for free, open-development of “plug and play” apps to increase interoperability. AMA Board Member Jesse Ehrenfeld, MD, sits on the advisory board for the SMART project.

Dr. Ehrenfeld has also taken the initiative at Vanderbilt University by creating a team focused on better use of technology that was already at physicians’ fingertips. Their solutions bring actionable information from the EHR to clinical faculty to help them better track patients’ progress and prepare for the next day’s patients.