Moving into the Age of Digital Health

MD Magazine®, Volume 6 Issue 4, Volume 6, Issue 4

As the days of the file folders crammed with patient information passes, the question becomes what doctors' offices will look like in the digital age.

As the days of the file folders crammed with patient information passes, the question becomes what doctors’ offices will look like in the digital age.

A survey conducted by McKinsey & Co. found patients now expect their doctors and healthcare professionals to be at the forefront of technology, which they believe will help keep them informed and as healthy as possible.

In its report, the company said patients have become accustomed to using online sources to answer their medical questions and they suggested it is time for further steps to be taken to integrate them into the care process.

Websites like DrEd in the United Kingdom are already providing a portal to buy prescription medication and learn more about a variety of conditions that can help patients be treated without having to leave the house. The study also cited patientslike.com, which allows people to connect with others sharing their conditions and also track their progress toward recovery.

Both sites are used as examples of what has been done, but the report also pointed out that there is still much more work to be done. Other industries that built a digital presence based on what customers were looking for can serve as a model for the medical community going forward.

“Success in the third wave of digital depends very much on first understanding patients’ digital preferences in both channel and service,” the authors wrote.

According to the report, part of moving forward is moving past myths or misinformation holding providers back rather than keeping them in line with what their patients are looking for.

“Our research revealed surprising and actionable insights about what patients really want, which can in turn inform how healthcare organizations begin their daily patient-enablement journey,” the researchers wrote.

According to the report, healthcare providers can take simple steps to reach their goal of ushering in a new digital era, starting by accepting the idea that patients want digital services as part of their care.

“Across all countries in our survey, more than 75% of respondents would like to use digital healthcare services, as long as those services meet their needs and provide the level of quality they expect,” the authors wrote.

Many patients said the reason they had not used a digital platform yet was because the technology did not meet their needs or was not of a high enough quality to bother using.

While many people looking to take their healthcare to the information superhighway are members of the younger generation, the report said older patients also want to take advantage of the best technology available. Of the people surveyed in the United Kingdom and Germany more than 70% of the older demographic said they want to go digital.

How the healthcare field chooses to go digital is also something being considered. Whether it is through websites and email or apps can be impacted by the age of the user, according to the report.

For doctors going digital and mobile, there will be a lot of avenues, but the report also looked at areas where the non-mobile app direction may be the best. Smartphone applications, the authors said, will likely appeal more to the younger generations.

“Health systems should therefore create mobile solutions that target this audience — for example, apps that focus on prenatal health or those that could be classified as lifestyle apps,” they wrote.

Even going after the younger generation comes with its own set of problems. The report warns against solutions that might not help the demographic in question, such as recommending useful applications to manage chronic conditions typically affecting older patients.

In many instances, patients ready for their providers to go digital were more concerned with the efficiency, usability, accessibility, and ability of the technology to integrate with their current systems rather than a flashy platform that may not deliver as solid of a product.

The way the information looks when it is transmitted is not always as important as the ability to get the information they want from the resources they need in a timely manner, according to the report.

“Surprisingly, across the globe, most people want the same thing: assistance with routine tasks and navigating the often-complex healthcare system,” the researchers wrote.

That can include anything from setting an appointment with a physician to finding the right specialist and helping to refill prescriptions. These services are simple enough that they do not require massive IT investments.

By looking at these steps, the authors said doctors who are still used to sharing information with patients on paper charts can begin to make the transition to a digital field where test results and treatment options can be shared in moments rather than months later.