The Technology Paradox in digital health


Despite the overwhelming evidence of the benefits of digital health over the traditional analog services, we have seen significant barriers to adoption that have resulted in what I refer to as the Ten Paradoxes of Digital Health. This article will address the Technology Paradox.

We are experiencing a technology explosion in healthcare. After decades of healthcare pulling up the rear among all industries in adopting technologies that digitise the physical world and led to exponential productivity and quality gains, in just five years healthcare has entered the 20th Century of information technology and within five more years could even enter the 21st Century – still a decade behind other industries, but the gap is closing.

The irony is that digital technology adoption is much easier for consumers/patient than it is for clinicians. Why?

Consumers are merely starting to use the same technologies in healthcare that they have been using in other industries for over a decade, therefore the consumer’s learning curves have not as steep as clinicians and the expectations are clear with regards to what digital healthcare should deliver to be on pare with other products, services, offerings and solutions in travel, media, banking, etc. For clinicians it is a different story.

Recently, an author interviewed me for an article he was writing entitled, “what patients can learn from physicians about wearables.” He told me he had already interviewed about a dozen clinicians. So I asked, “before we get started on this interview, tell me how the physician interviews went.”

He said they were awful. He hadn’t found any clinicians yet that knew what wearables were, and when he then explained various types wearables and use cases they told him, “wearables are a terrible idea. They well lead my patients to think they know more about their health than they do, it will create volumes of worthless data, and it will drive my patients to become hypochondriacs.” After he completed the interview with me, where I outlined the nature of the “consumer health revolution” that is now attacking the status quo and demanding change, he told me that he had decided to change the title of his article to “What physicians can learn from patients about wearables.”

The reality is that clinicians are not technologists – at best they are scientists. As such they really aren’t interested in trying to figure out how to apply the flood of new technologies in novel ways to solve age old problems. What they want from digital health technology is a business model similar to what they experience with pharmaceutical companies.

Let’s do a thought experiment. What if the business model for a drug company was to invent a new therapy, patent it, publish the patent and then encourage clinicians to buy chemistry sets and follow their patent guidelines to make therapies to treat patients. How commercially successful would drug companies be? How many clinicians would follow these formulas to treat patients?

Yet this is precisely what we have been doing in the digital health marketplace. We throw lots of technologies at physicians, point to some small pilots that have been done that have used the technologies and encourage them to figure out how to configure these new technologies into solutions so solve consumer/patient problems. And then we are surprised and disappointed at the lack of uptake.

For digital health to be accepted, adopted, and scaled we need to create a business model similar to the pharmaceutical industry, where all the clinicians needs to know is the name of the solution (drug), dosing, and then write it on a piece of paper or send it in electronically and then let others take care of fulfillment, education, management, etc. Clinicians need to be able to merely prescribe a digital health solution and let others manage all the operational and execution related details.

I call this an “Owning the Disease” business model and I have published many articles and studies on this in the past. This is precisely what Merck Serono does in growth hormone therapy, we see Sanofi doing this in diabetes, Medtronic is doing this in cardiac rhythm management, and we see QualcommLife providing the platform technologies in 2Net and HealthyCircles that others can build their digital health solutions upon. All of these companies are integrating digital health technologies with their core offerings to create total solutions that deliver outcomes and results.

For digital health to scale we have to make it as simple and as magical for clinicians to deliver as prescribing a drug, we can’t expect them to become technologists, merely clinicians.

Written by: Christopher Wasden

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