Digital Health Opens Door to New Challenges, Opportunities

Healthcare professionals work in a rapidly transforming industry, in part due to the rise of digital health technology, which presents both challenges and new opportunities for patient care.

Physicians, nurses, doctors of all specialties, and other healthcare workers face an increasing number of patients living with chronic medical conditions and novel diseases, a growing number of administrative tasks, and an overall lack of a workforce to handle the increase in patient demand.

The nonprofit organization Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, Inc. (HIMSS) recently updated its definition of “digital health” to encompass the following:

Digital health connects and empowers people and populations to manage health and wellness, augmented by accessible and supportive provider teams working within flexible, integrated, interoperable and digitally-enabled care environments that strategically leverage digital tools, technologies and services to transform care delivery.”

This definition shines a light on how digital health technology is slowly reshaping the industry as healthcare becomes more patient-centric instead of provider-centric. This shift is evident in the retail industry. Purchasing decisions made by consumers are driven by their specific needs and the ability for a retailer to meet a request within a specific timeframe.

The healthcare industry is no different. Digital health enables patients to have more control over access to their own healthcare information as well as the ability to seek out data related to medical conditions, prescription medications, and treatment protocols.

Previously, patients relied solely upon healthcare professionals for access to any and all of this information. With advancements in technology and digital health, the future of healthcare is dependent upon medical professionals establishing an improved, trust-based relationship with their patients.

This can be accomplished through providers allowing their patients to access the tools and information they need to connect with a care team that builds trust and offers patients choices about their treatment options through digital health technology.

Healthcare providers must understand and embrace the addition of digital technology within the biopsychosocial approach to health care originally developed by George L. Engel.

The biopsychosocial approach (.pdf) considers biological, psychological, and social factors and their complex interactions in understanding health, illness, and health care delivery.

Digital health tools must be considered as part of this approach on both sides of the equation, as patients seek out information to have more control over their health. Patients have more information at their fingertips with an array of Smartphone apps to assist in their health and wellness journey. Patients can follow their treatment protocol closely and turn to online communities for support or questions.

It is important for any healthcare professional working in this age of constant connectivity to understand and accept the fact that their patients are likely to be more independent in their healthcare choices, expect digital innovations in the delivery of their healthcare, and take more time to evaluate any medical advice given to them.

Healthcare professionals cannot feel overshadowed or offended if their advice isn’t as freely received by their patients as it once was. A balanced provider-patient relationship with mutual trust and respect starts with the healthcare professional incorporating digital health tools along with their years of experience and training to provide patients healthcare services in the manner they have come to expect in the digital age.

Healthcare professionals can benefit from digital health technology as much as their patients if they embrace the opportunities it can provide, such as:

Without question, a majority of digital health technology focuses on benefitting patients rather than healthcare professionals—yet that is not the case entirely.

Digital health has the potential to mold the career of a healthcare professional into one that is more rewarding, rather than replace them. As tools become more widely used by providers, digital health technology is likely to offer support and reduce the repetitive elements of their job that often cause administrative burden. Through a comprehensive realization of how digital health can develop their potential, healthcare professionals have the opportunity to provide patients with an unprecedented level of care.

Ultimately, digital health opens the door to opportunities that can solidify the provider-patient relationship into a partnership and keep compassionate care as the fundamental basis of healthcare—a humanistic quality that no advancement in technology will ever be able to replicate.

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