Why Doctors Need to Embrace Digital Now

The digital revolution has, over the past decade, shaped a range of industries, from music to retail, travel, banking; and even corporate culture. This move towards innovation and digital has created solutions to address the needs of the generation of today and prepare for the people of tomorrow.

Healthcare has slowly, but surely, followed suit. However, some pockets of the sector remain persistently offline. From the booking of appointments to filling out of forms, general administration within practices is somewhat unchanged, but this approach should soon be a thing of the past. The reason is simple: innovations in practice administration are being driven by up-and-coming millennials. This online generation, currently under the age of 35, is the largest user of modern technologies and will soon make up the predominant portion of your patient base. For doctors, this new era of mobility creates an exciting opportunity to better connect with their patients.

There are technologies on the brink of transforming the healthcare industry, with software getting smarter and more independent. Interestingly, most of these applications are free, with new competencies — machine learning and artificial intelligence — that are pushing innovation and elevating the doctor-patient relationship.

It is vital that doctors stay up to date on these new trends. Here’s a look at some of the trends already affecting the business of future private practice.

Healthcare on Demand

It is common knowledge that today’s younger generation want speedy responses to their queries. This need has led to the creation of many successful applications over the last five years to help both parties communicate in a more efficient manner. Understandably these ‘Apps’ carry a certain stigma of complexity, and give a sense that once you’re in, you’re in – with little control. But you need not download the most sophisticated or untested apps to start experimenting in this arena. We have examples in our own Healthbridge community where doctors use the very common WhatsApp application to quickly send their patients their test results or simply to confirm appointments. There are of course applications which are breaking ground in the practice of ‘online medicine’. So-called telemedicine apps are lowering costs through virtual and remote access to healthcare, which has led to the increase of preventive care. In the US, the number of virtual doctor visits in 2016 stood at 1.2-million, with 74% of hospitals offering telemedicine benefits.

Understandably there are very real concerns when it comes to being available online, such as the invasion of your personal time. It requires clear boundaries being set with patients so that expectations are clear. We can be sure that technology of this nature is only going to proliferate. But you have the opportunity to embrace it – at your own pace – and see it for the potential it offers in achieving even better patient outcomes.

Patients Will Search for and Assess You Online

From HelloMD to Vitals, we now have apps that can provide a specific service: finding medical practitioners such as a radiologist, general practitioner, physiotherapist or even a neurologist. These applications are good at connecting patients with the right certified medical doctor, even setting up an appointment within 24 hours. These sessions then take place via video call.

The technology is pretty prescriptive: they not only find the practitioner, they provide the best-reviewed practitioners in the database, along with direct access to other practitioners for second opinions. In the case of apps, at this stage – yes – you will only appear if you have specifically signed up to be a part of that community. But what many don’t realise is that almost all of us already exist online in some shape or form. A simple Google search will reveal existing reviews on your practice. This is why it’s important to at least start your awareness of how the patient of the future could come into your circle.

Competitive Medicine Costing

Local and global medical pricing registries are helping patients better price medicines. Some apps are claiming they can get discounts to as much as 85%. www.health-e.org.za works as a pricing index to know what to expect to pay when patients receive prescriptions. The site also finds possible generics for a branded medicine and ensures that patients are not being overcharged for medicine.

MyCigna from cigna.com, on the other hand, is a mobile app that lets you compare prescription drug prices. As with both, they allow patients to type the name of the drug and quickly compare cash and discount prices at local pharmacies.

Great patient healthcare starts with transparency. As technology increases access to information, patients are more likely to do comparisons and will go with the option that is cheaper and more convenient. Granted the relevancy of these specific apps to the South African private practice is low due to medicines being regulated. But there are potential knock-on effects that could apply locally. If patients are able to get the best prices on medicines from pharmacy chains, there could be more money available in healthcare to cover other treatment expenses.

Digital Collaboration

Doctors are calling it “the future of healthcare realised.” A few online and application resources have been devised to create a space where practitioners and caregivers have real-time information about patients and can communicate with each other via a simple touch of a button.

Right now there’s PingMD – a private messaging app for you, the doctor, to connect with others and your patients. However, it’s not the kind of application you just download. To keep things safe and secure, the app is only offered as a service between doctors and patients who make it available or recommend it.

It All Leads to Data

What is the point of all these digital health records, booking apps and Telemed systems? Data. All this software and infrastructure enable you, the practitioner, to collect, analyse and share data. Due to the increased wearable technology, apps, mobile services, video and more. Your patients are becoming more engaged in their own wellbeing and taking greater responsibility for staying healthy thanks to what’s strapped to their wrists.

The concern for many healthcare practitioners is what the legal exposure of greater data use and sharing could be for them. In general, reputable apps and systems will operate within legal parameters but vigilance is always important. Take the time to read any terms and conditions so you are aware of where your data is, who sees it and how it is being used. In the case of electronic health records, you can question software partners on their safety measures to protect your data, what precautions they take to reduce the chance of outside parties hacking into their database or even into an online consultation. Their answers should leave you clear and comfortable. Making use of technology is a great complement to the work done by doctors, particularly to help pick up insights and better understand patient needs and lifestyle. Patients are in dire need of expert help, what they need is for doctors to continue to take their rightful place in healthcare while leveraging technologies that can help their businesses thrive and help them offer an even better experience to their patients.

For more information on how to take on the software that will benefit your patients most, please email queries@healthbridge.co.za. 

By Luis da Silva, Healthbridge MD


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