While digital health is becoming very popular for companies to invest in, there is something that is being overlooked that could prove costly down the road. The issue at hand is the relationship that exists between the doctor and their patient as advice given by the physician is being ignored. Considering that many patients hate going to the doctor, digital health companies need to be aware that they may be creating more of a separation between the care provider and the patient instead of being less.
Digital Health Limited in Helping Users Who are Already Sick
Recently, writer Christina Farr from CNBC took a look at a flaw that has been overlooked by health technology, which is that patients despise going to the doctor. Since technology continues to advance at a steady pace, companies have seen that digital health is an industry that is worth investing in.
The first quarter of 2018 has seen $1.6 billion dollars in venture capital raised by companies alone, while other companies such as Amazon, Apple and Alphabet are jumping in with their own devices and apps designed to track a user’s health. While it may be true that these companies are improving on their abilities to take populations of people and screen for health issues before becoming a serious medical issue, they appear to struggle with assisting those patients that have greater medical needs.
Experts in the medical field are saying that those users who are at high risk or are already sick cannot be helped much by digital health as a lot of these companies will not diagnose an illness due to regulatory reasons. Even if sensors and algorithms pick up strong signals that a problem exists, the result is a suggestion to see their doctor.
Such is the case with smartwatches from Fitbit and Apple, where sensors can detect problems like atrial fibrillation, a heart rhythm disorder, and sleep apnea, a sleep breathing problem; yet, the best that they can do is recommend patients to seek medical care. There is one major flaw in offering this advice; patients detest going to see a doctor.
Overcoming the Patient/Doctor Visit
The heart of the matter is that multiple studies have revealed that a majority of patients avoid going to a doctor because of the high cost or the experience is not a desirable one. One possible solution would be for digital companies to form a partnership with providers that offers services within hospitals and clinics that results in a pleasant experience for the patient.
Jeffrey Wessler, a cardiology fellow at Columbia University Medical Center and the founder of the digital health company known as Heartbeat, said “all the things done well by digital health—they’re simple, fun, visual with great user experience—are still missing from most clinical visits—so it remains pretty unpleasant to be a patient. To me, this gap gets closed by bringing the clinical experience up to the same standards as our digital health solutions.”
This suggests that digital health companies should find ways to get inside hospitals or clinics either through new products or a partnership instead of focusing outside the health experience. Wessler is attempting this through Heartbeat by leveraging digital health solutions that already exists but also attempting to rethink the experience of in-person primary care that assists those at risk for heart disease.
Fortunately, others within the medical sector agree that this serious issue must be addressed, such as Joel Dudley, who is the director of the Institute for Next Generation at Mount Sinai. One favorable solution would be to utilize telemedicine, or virtual doctor visits, within the patient experience which would allow patients to have a consultation through a video or phone call. This would also assure digital health companies that a user has at least consulted a medical expert instead of ignoring the situation.
Another benefit of digital health services and apps would be for doctors having the ability to improve the patient experience rather than dreading or trying to avoid their next appointment. Dudley said that if this doctor/patient gap fails to be closed, he fears that digital health solutions will really just create more separation between patient and care provider.