One of our featured articles this month covers a COSM panel representing leaders from our subspecialty societies. The discussion was over how the pandemic impacted each subspecialty, from the reduced volume of tubes and tonsils in a pediatric practice to the care and caution taken to mitigate the risk of an aerosol-generating rhinology and laryngology practice. And although each subspecialty had a unique perspective, there was one commonality that everyone agreed upon: the importance of telemedicine during the pandemic and how it has served as a kick start to an age of healthcare digital transformation.
Explore This IssueJuly 2021
So, what is digital health? It consists of the technologies that can help patients make an appointment with their provider with the use of an app on their smartphone. It’s the wearable technology that allows healthcare providers to monitor a patient’s heart rate while they’re resting in their homes after being discharged from a hospitalization. Two-way texting between providers and patients, care-coordination apps that make sure patients make their varied provider appointments in a complex cancer journey, and artificial intelligence programs that allow health systems to predict patients who are at risk for a 30-day readmission are all examples of the digital transformation that’s sweeping through healthcare.
Several tech giants, namely Amazon, Google, and Apple, have made major moves into healthcare. Each brings its unique business model and strategy to its initiative. Since 2018, Amazon has been opening health centers in close proximity to its fulfillment and distribution centers. The company has initiatives to bring the prescription drug business online, use Alexa as a vehicle for home health monitoring, and partner with healthcare systems on pilot technology that increases patient engagement and influences provider behavior.
Google has brought its Cloud technology and ability to build application programming interfaces to increase the functionality of electronic health records and incorporate artificial intelligence to data analytics. Apple has partnered with health systems to use its smart watches and iPhones for health monitoring and wellness. Each of these giants is known for innovation and execution, and one can only wonder how big of an impact they will have.
But, there remains a significant population of patients who don’t have access to a smartphone, don’t have reliable broadband, and/or are technology averse. We cannot allow our rush to go digital to widen the healthcare disparities that are already rampant in our society. It will be incumbent on those leading this movement to ensure this doesn’t happen. The University of Pennsylvania Health System has one of the leading digital innovation centers in the country. Over the past couple of years, they have worked with the local libraries in West Philadelphia to donate computers and electronic devices to allow their patients who don’t have a smartphone or internet to access their digital services. It’s far from perfect, but it’s a good first step.
There are exciting times ahead as we begin exiting from the pandemic. I’m looking forward to talking next month.