Digital health: 3 doc worries

Doctor and digital devices

Despite the growing use of digital tools in healthcare, not all providers are confident that technology can have a positive impact on their efforts, according to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center’s Brennan Spiegel.

In a recent blog post, Spiegel, who serves as the hospital’s director of health services research in academic affairs and clinical transformation, discusses some of the top “fears” he’s heard over the years from doctors hesitant to embrace IT with open arms. Here are three of those fears, and his response to each:

Fear 1: There is no time to account for all of the data created by digital health tools.

Spiegel says that, perhaps, the answer is training a new specialist--the “digitalist”--who specifically focuses on monitoring and acting on remote patient data. “This provider does not yet exist, just as ‘The Hospitalist’ did not exist prior to 1996, when Robert Wachter and Lee Goldman coined the term to describe a much-needed clinician to fill an unmet need for inpatient care,” he says. “The Digitalist will reside in an e-coordination facility and remotely track data from biosensors, portals apps, and social media, then combine the data with clinical parameters and knowledge about the patients’ medical history.” Such a specialist, he says, would also work to prevent crises and cut avoidable readmissions.

Fear 2: Only wealthy patients will be able to access this kind of care.

Spiegel acknowledges that digital health is most needed in low socioeconomic status communities where chronic disease is more prevalent, and says that his research team is currently testing IT interventions in a community in South Los Angeles. “The fact that there is a disparity in digital health does not invalidate it as a science; it only means digital health is like most every other aspect of healthcare delivery,” Spiegel says. Instead of avoiding digital health outright, he says, providers must address the disparity.

Fear 3: Digital devices aren’t sticky enough for patients to continue using with regularity.

Building tools, Spiegel says, is only the beginning of using technology in healthcare. The real challenge, he says, is changing the behavior of providers and patients. “We already have billions of neuro-hormonal biosensors in our body; the real issue is whether we heed their clarion calls to action,” he says. “Often we don’t, even though we know better.”