Health innovation: patients and doctors in focus

By Michael Clark, Senior Vice President of Healthcare, Nuance Communications
Wednesday, 14 October, 2020

Health innovation: patients and doctors in focus

Adapting to the immediate needs of patients at the start of the pandemic has forced the healthcare industry to accelerate its innovation journey. We can look at this journey through short-term adjustments and long-term transformation.

Healthcare organisations have gone through the short-term phase, adopting solutions with a strong focus on addressing patients’ needs. This focus on technologies has led to reignited interest from healthcare organisations, which are investigating how they can leverage innovation to de-risk their operations and deliver better care in the long term.

In doing so, it is essential to ensure these optimisations will equally benefit patients and practitioners. Ultimately, we can only meet patients’ ongoing needs and expectations by improving practitioners’ working conditions and bringing them more adaptive processes and technology, and new efficiencies.

AI-powered technologies can help improve doctors’ working conditions. One of our recent studies shows that Australian doctors are already spending up to half of their time on clinical documentation, creating high levels of mental health issues among the medical community. Indeed, another study found that Australian doctors display high levels of emotional exhaustion (32%) and cynicism (35%), with major factors being a work-life imbalance and being overworked. Because many AI-powered and ambient technologies are hosted in the cloud, providers are now empowered to complete documentation from any device, in any context.

Patients’ evolving expectations

At the start of the pandemic, everyday interactions quickly shifted to digital platforms. So when the federal government added telehealth to the Medicare rebate list, patients were swift to adopt it. In fact, at the height of the coronavirus pandemic locally, one in six adults used telehealth to replace face-to-face appointments. The pandemic has accelerated the emergence of the ‘digital patient’, who will have increased expectations from future innovations in health care.

Consumer applications and services have set the standard for convenience and user experience — we can expect that patients will want to engage with their healthcare applications in similar ways. In short, it has to be easy, convenient and fast, with access to online bookings and reminders, visibility on wait times and access to clinical results at their fingertips. Patients now consider these components central to their healthcare experience, adding a new dimension to the doctor–patient relationship.

These features — along with easy access to medical records, treatment options and updated healthcare delivery mandates — mean greater transparency and visibility, which can help alleviate patients’ frustrations, elevate trust in their practitioners and the broader system, and improve quality of care.

As remote care delivery will become the favoured option for more patients, health tracking devices can also help doctors to monitor patients’ conditions remotely. The doctor–patient relationship has changed, and patients are increasingly willing to bring interesting insights into their own health — these devices are one way to engage the patient in their own health care.

But while innovation should aim at directly addressing patients’ needs, it should also generate efficiencies for medical practitioners, in order to improve their challenging working conditions and enable them to deliver the best possible care, ultimately benefiting patients.

Healthier doctors for healthier patients

The pandemic has elevated patients’ expectations for empathy and engagement from their doctors. But this can be difficult to do, especially during remote or virtual consultations, and medical practitioners need support. Emerging technologies can help.

For example, ambient technologies such as AI-powered speech recognition can automatically capture and document doctor–patient interactions and update medical records. In this way, these technologies can remove the extensive administrative burden and allow for a greater connection between patient and provider. Consider how taking notes on a computer while the patient is in the room has always created an emotional (even physical) barrier between doctors and patients. These barriers only increase with remote consultations that don’t allow for doctors to read body language to influence the engagement.

In a challenging context that puts doctors under even more pressure, finding innovative ways to alleviate the administrative burden seems like one of the obvious avenues for optimising doctors’ workloads and ensuring their mental health is prioritised.

While it is essential for medical organisations to optimise how they engage with patients through technology, it will be equally important to look at solutions that support practitioners in their duty of care. The industry’s digital transformation must centre both doctor and patient to make sure it will benefit the ecosystem as a whole.

Michael Clark is Senior Vice President of Healthcare at Nuance Communications.

Main image credit: © Business

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