Skip to Main Content
Contribute Try STAT+ Today

For the past few decades, technology has been gradually revolutionizing health care for patients. It may be having less-positive effects for physicians, some of whom eye it as a threat to doctoring.

As the world simultaneously looks to technology to help us navigate the pandemic and the medical community to get us out of it, the need for both to work together and amplify grows clearer with each day.

The emergence of Covid-19 underscored that doctors are indispensable because of their humanity. In times of crisis, people seek their warmth, empathy, and understanding as much as their brainpower and expertise. The report “Truth About Doctors” from McCann Health, the company we work for, includes pre- and post-Covid studies on the behaviors, attitudes, and emotional states of health care professionals. It revealed a seismic, positive shift in the relationship between technology and health and their establishment as partners in care.

advertisement

As the world moves towards a period of renewal, it will be increasingly important that technology plays a complementary role in care, not just supporting doctoring but super-powering it.

Along with several of our McCann colleagues, we identified four key ways how health care technology has changed since 2016, and the role of the health care industry in leveraging these changes to carve a new way forward.

advertisement

Technology is redefining the where of care

Home defines most individuals’ physical, mental, and social health. Until recently, home has also been a place where doctors are absent. That changed with Covid-19 and the rapid growth of telemedicine. In China, health care company Ping An Good Doctor received 1.1 billion consultation requests within the first two weeks of the pandemic. Previously skeptical doctors saw firsthand how, by moving health encounters from the clinic to the home, telemedicine offered a unique window into their patients’ reality.

To complement this shift to truly personalized care, the industry is seeing the exponential rise of remote monitoring technology, from remote care kits for health care providers like MedWand to voice-activated virtual caregivers such as Care Angel that are designed to enhance the telemedicine experience. Hurdles remain: Even a hybrid model of care can only reach as far — and move as fast — as the broadband it relies on.

If marketers and others within the health care industry can help doctors acclimatize to the new where of care — supporting them to embrace the home as an extension of their domain rather than something outside of it — health can be elevated in a more holistic level.

Technology can help cultivate inter-professional collaboration

The pandemic collapsed medical siloes. Through social media and messaging platforms like Twitter and WhatsApp, doctors with diverse backgrounds were able to pool knowledge and emotionally support each other in the collective effort to fight Covid-19. They collaborated in new ways with allied health care professionals, government, and industry, sparking a reimagining of the health ecosystem.

The challenge moving forward is giving this organic way of working across care teams and borders a structure to make it scalable. How can the health care system evolve so an expert in peripheral neuropathy in Australia can collaborate with a startup in Belgium? On a more local level, how can health care systems ensure that the different health professionals involved in a patient’s care work together?

In Japan, the Hipocra platform is beginning to address this by helping generalists get clinical advice from specialists. This is especially beneficial for doctors who work in remote areas or single-department hospitals. Secure, shared platforms can nurture a sense of belonging and create a new kind of community for doctors — a “care tribe” that has the power to connect perspectives and passions to advance the experience of care. In the U.S., theMednet and similar organizations help physicians get expert opinion on questions where there is no clear answer in guidelines or published research.

Technology can foster continuity and ‘contiguity’

Using technology to empower people isn’t a new idea. In Estonia, it has been a reality for more than 12 years. The country’s national digital ID card program gives patients access and control over their own health data.

In a global survey, 42% of people said they were adopting a long-term approach to health maintenance. This willingness to take control over personal well-being in light of the pandemic can only go so far in a health care system where time is limited and resources are fragmented. With the proliferation of sensors at the most recent Consumer Electronics Show, such as OptiBP, BioButton, Oura Ring, and many others, there may be no better time to apply the quantifiable self to achieve more personalized care. It will be crucial, however, that new self-monitoring technologies be integrated with the full health care ecosystem to make personal health care easier and more seamless, rather than adding to the confusion.

But even if technology provides access to more health information, it does not necessarily follow that patients or health care providers will understand it. Health care providers must be taught the skills to not only help patients decipher their health information but to advance their care by proactively identifying and addressing their health risks. With this comes a need to ensure that work is being done in a way that overcomes health inequities rather than heightens them.

Technology can care for the carers

Covid-19 has shown that, instead of posing an existential threat to doctors, technology may be a lifeline for them. By assessing patients before a consultation or a referral, cognitive tech platforms like JF Healthcare and Ada can channel doctors’ energy to the problems that need it most. In complicated therapy areas such as oncology, it can ease their load through supporting diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis.

First Opinion Podcast: STAT’s weekly podcast covers the people, issues, and ideas shaping the life sciences writ large. Subscribe today.

In the day-to-day practice of caregiving, technology can enrich relationships by enabling doctors to focus on the human art of medicine. Combined with the flexibility of video consultations and the panoramic perspective of integrated systems, technology can free doctors from the tyranny of the 10-minute consultation and give them back time to care on their own terms.

It’s easy to think that health care is behind the curve when it comes to embracing technology. Covid-19 has shown that this just isn’t the case. When it comes to the relationship between doctors and technology, the pandemic has been an epiphany. Instead of displacing doctors, technology has the power to help them provide better care, supercharging the humanity and empathy that lies at the heart of medicine.

Although machines can outsmart doctors, they can’t out-kind, out-humor or out-care them. Technology has a role in medicine, but only in the service of care.

Hilary Gentile is the global chief strategy officer for McCann Health, where Sarah Cockle-Hearne is a senior strategic planner.