Trust and time: Two critical elements that will shape the future of health technology

Philips eICU
At the Cleveland Clinic, an eICU has reallocated time back to clinicians. (Philips)

Perception and reality aren’t always aligned—especially when it comes to technology.

But in the U.S there is a narrow gap between how patients and healthcare providers perceive the integration of health technology and what is actually happening. According to “The Future of Health Index,” a report commissioned by Philips that captures healthcare connectivity across the globe, the U.S. had the smallest perception versus reality disconnect when it came to health IT integration—notably smaller than countries like the U.K. and France where perception lags behind reality.

A primary driver behind that conformity is the fact that the U.S. spends more on health IT even as a smaller percentage of healthcare professionals feel an integrated system is important (75% versus an average of 88% across 19 countries).

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The report also highlighted two central issues that are still holding back health IT connectivity within the U.S. healthcare system: time and trust. Clinicians are concerned that new technology will add to their daily workload, while patient—and government regulators—are still navigating the issue of data ownership.

For the Cleveland Clinic, time has become a key consideration when evaluating any new technology.

“We’re focused on technology restoring time to the doctor, the nurse or the caregiver so they can use that time to interact with the patient,” Brian Donley, M.D., chief of staff at the Cleveland Clinic told FierceHealthcare.

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Donley highlights two initiatives at the system that have achieved that aim. An eICU program that uses remote patient monitoring has allowed ICU clinicians to focus on highest priority patients. Another pilot project called “vital scout” has freed up nurses by continuously monitoring patient vital signs and using analytics to alert nurses when a patient is outside of normal limits.

Health systems are still parsing out technology improves workflow versus solutions that are more burdensome for providers. Likewise, trust between every member of the healthcare ecosystem is still evolving.

“I think we’re not there yet on the trusting relationships that have to be built to develop better partnerships among the patients, among the industry, among the payers and that disruptive innovator,” Donley said. “All four are important components to help solve some of these complex problems.”

Patient trust is still evolving as well, especially as the industry navigates the thorny issue of data ownership. Across the globe, just 21% of the general population said they have complete ownership of their medical records. More than half said they have some ownership, and 24% felt they had none.

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That will be a significant barrier to health IT adoption, especially in the U.S. where there is a lot of grey area regarding data ownership—an issue that can delay interoperability.

“[The U.S. government] has stayed largely silent on the issue,” Patricia Mechael, executive vice president at the HIMSS Personal Connected Health Alliance told FierceHealthcare. “And I think this has created a fair amount of confusion within the U.S.  health system, particularly when you have patients going to providers and asking for their records, and they don’t necessarily know how to provide health data back to them.”

That goes both ways, she added. One reason wearables haven’t made a significant impact in healthcare and struggled with engagement generally is because users don’t have any way to utilize the data. Improving interoperability and the safe transfer of data will alter that dynamic in the future, she said.

“It really points to the fact that a lot of technology and innovation is moving faster than the regulatory framework and policies that govern it,” Mechael said. “In some countries, there are very clear policies on ownership of data. In other countries, there is remarkable silence.”