For a digital health deployment to succeed effectively, there is a need for a cultural transformation in which internal and external stakeholders carry out their duties diligently
Today digital health is integrated as part of national health policies and priorities in several countries to benefit people by bridging health infrastructure gaps equitably and sustainably. The World Health Organization (WHO) recognised digital health as a means to achieve global health and well-being, in line with the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 2030).
The WHO defines digital health as an umbrella term encompassing eHealth using advanced computing sciences such as artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality (VR), genomics, big data, business analytics, blockchain, and other emerging technologies. Digital health enabled healthcare and medicine to evolve from practising trepanning to performing critical surgeries using robotics and monitoring patients through remote intensive care units. Most healthcare firms today have started integrating technology into their institutions. They started redesigning the processes with a patient-centric approach and leveraged digital health to provide better patient experiences, establish reliable, durable connections, and boost loyalty.
The global digital health market was valued at $145.5 billion in 2021 and is expected to reach $430.5 billion by 2028, growing at a compound annual growth rate of around 17 percent. In the pandemic-ridden era, digital health technologies have emerged at the forefront of healthcare delivery and created a monumental surge in health technology markets for products such as telemedicine, AI-driven chatbots, smart wearables, and e-pharmacies.
Several stakeholders come together in digitalisation. While hospital administrators have top-line and bottom-line motivation for digital health deployments, how does it matter to doctors, who traditionally have been known for their clinical excellence? An examination of the role of doctors in the current digital era reveals that their roles have been changing as their duties have diversified from purely clinical work to entrepreneurial, research-focused, and product development duties that might define the overall goal of healthcare institutions. The duties of a doctor in a digital healthcare setting now go well beyond those of a power user of a digital health product. The practice of medicine nowadays involves much more than just managing patient care, necessitating the development of new skill sets, such as proficiency in understanding business insights, research, and digital product applications alongside clinical advocacy.
For a digital health deployment to succeed effectively, there is a need for a cultural transformation in which internal and external stakeholders carry out their duties diligently. Healthcare is characteristically associated with doctors for most stakeholders as they are the only internal stakeholders who deal, assess, and diagnose directly with their patients. Below, we describe the different roles of doctors in digital health deployments.
Doctors as beneficiaries:
Achieving digital transformation makes it easy for doctors to manage their time, which helps them provide expert and personalised prognoses to their patients rather than focusing on administrative work. Furthermore, having access to digital health records and analytics improves the accuracy of diagnosis. Doctors have primarily benefited from digital transformation as traditional processes have been automated—saving time, money, and lives. For instance, several hospitals worldwide use Google's DeepMind Health AI, which helps patients in their journey from diagnosis to treatment. The DeepMind Health alerts doctors when a patient's health worsens and offers the doctor a list of diagnoses by searching through millions of datasets for related symptoms.
Additionally, in many cases, doctor-patient relations have expanded due to the establishment of innovations such as telemedicine, video calls, and teleconsultation. Doctors can also promote awareness of and engagement with digital health among their patient groups.Also read: Lessons from COVID-19: The business skills doctors need
Doctors as trust builders:
Doctors are effectively the spokesperson for their industry as they interact directly with their patients and whom the patient trusts. According to a survey conducted by Accenture in 2020, over 55 percent of their participants were ready to take a proactive role in adopting digital transformation. However, only 11 percent of the total participants were approached by their healthcare providers to provide their input on the transformation. For a layperson, it is challenging to understand the merits of digital transformation and privacy issues with their health-related data. In such a scenario, doctors can establish greater confidence in their patients and explain all the benefits of adopting digital health solutions from a patient's point of view. Digital health also allows doctors to provide more personalised care and improve patient communication, further strengthening the doctor-patient relationship. Doctors solving the scepticism of their patients present the greater impetus to healthcare and medical companies involved in digital transformation who need help to reach out to their external stakeholders directly.
Research also provides evidence that about 89 percent of the participants exhibited high confidence in their doctors, but only 45 percent trusted their health tech companies with their health records and data. Patients needing more trust in their data usage are less likely to adopt digitalisation, stating security and privacy reasons. Also read: AI for all: Meet the Indian startups putting a doctor in every pocket
Doctors as collaborators:
Big data has transformed the healthcare sector beyond hospital-specific electronic health record management, with technology companies collecting patient data to provide customised health offerings tracking patient health history. A collaborative effort between doctors and digital technologies helps improve health outcomes and provides cross-selling opportunities for health products across the health value chain.
For the former, consider Omada Health as an example. As a digital care solution firm, its digital health offering focuses on reducing the risk of avoidable lifestyle-based health problems by processing patients' behavioural data through its smart wearables and devices. Likewise, radiologists are employing machine learning-based software that helps colour-code an internal organ for better diagnostic results. Similarly, using the doctor-tracked patient data, Philips' echocardiography uses an AI called HeartModelAI that creates a 3D model of the patient's heart using echocardiogram technology that allows cardiologists to increase diagnostic confidence.
For the latter benefit, today, doctors use data science tools and machine learning algorithms to track respiratory and cardiac diseases using real-time analytics, which helps keep track of patient-specific data. In turn, hospital administrators and medical device companies could use that data to target their other products for the right patient segments. For example, after a teleconsultation via a mobile application, pharmacy nudges help promote collaboration between various key players in the health value chain, alongside providing convenience to patients. An important implication of such data usage is information and data privacy issues, and thus transparency and fairness in the usage of such data with consent from the associated patients enable further value creation.
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Doctors as educators:
Building confidence in digital health remains the utmost priority for doctors due to the sensitivity of the healthcare data and insights driven by digital decision support systems. To ensure transparency, doctors must foster relationships and build confidence in their patient groups. Often, patients read or hear about digital health modes and models and get carried away by assumptions, which lead to apprehensions or biases that reflect their behaviours. For example, a lack of patient knowledge of an AI-based diagnosis system could lead to a lack of patient cooperation in treatment. Similarly, patients who misjudge themselves as experts in using digital devices may incorrectly gauge their health status. To bridge the gaps between patients and digital health, doctors can act as educators to ensure the correctness, fairness, and transparency of digital health-related subject matters regarding diagnosis, treatment, and medicine. Similarly, doctors de facto serve as educators, informing patients and the healthcare institution's leadership team, which helps the latter gain an in-depth understanding of the patient's assessment of any digital change in respective hospitals.
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Doctors as interfaces:
Doctors lay at the healthcare value chain’s centre, enabling them to deliver a personalised and integrated experience to their patients. The healthcare value chain can be defined as a set of services that integrates various participants through a business model and virtual data backbone to create efficient stakeholder experiences. These could include medical device companies, pharmacies, home care firms, diagnostic labs, health platforms, and so on. The transition to healthcare 4.0, whose tenet is 'Health is More than Healthcare,’ is fostering technological innovations at an unprecedented rate primarily to promote healthy lifestyles. To provide a holistic health experience, doctors must liaison with multiple players via digital modes and recommendations towards building contemporary business models and enhancing patient satisfaction.
In sum, doctors remain an indispensable part of modern society despite all the technological advancements in healthcare. Hospital administrators and policymakers need to enable and empower doctors as an integral part of digital health deployments. It’s high time that doctors realise their bigger role in digital health and start expanding their traditional roles beyond clinical excellence. [i] Vijaya Sunder M is an award-winning author and a global thought leader in Continuous Improvement and Digital Transformation. He is a recipient of ASQ’s Crosby Award, and IAQ’s Walter Masing Award, among other recognitions. He has about 18 years of industry experience and holds a PhD in Operational Excellence. He is currently an Assistant Professor (Practice) at the Indian School of Business (ISB) and affiliate faculty at the Max Institute of Healthcare Management at ISB.
[ii] Rahul Kamath works as a research associate affiliated with the Max Institute of Healthcare Management at ISB.
[This article has been reproduced with permission from ISBInsight, the research publication of the Indian School of Business, India]