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Innovations such as artificial intelligence are making a difference in quality of care, according to experts in a recent panel discussion.
In the first quarter of 2021, digital health companies raised over $6.7 billion in venture funding, the largest dollar value of investment in history for digital health. The rise in funding shows that investors and digital health companies are optimistic about continued technology adoption, which saw a period of acceleration in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Artificial intelligence and other digital health tools that improve efficiency for clinicians and reduce costs are likely to emerge as top technologies, according to healthcare executives, investors and technology executives who discussed digital health in a panel hosted by private equity firm SCP & CO in May.
How COVID-19 Impacted Digital Technology Adoption
The COVID-19 pandemic kicked open the door with force to digital healthcare, said panelist Scott Arnold, executive vice president and CIO of Tampa General Hospital.
“A great example is telehealth. It skyrocketed at the beginning because sometimes it was the only way to get critical healthcare services safely. It’s not just the consumer that’s gotten comfortable but also the provider,” he said. “Telehealth is here to stay. It’s gone up, come down and leveled off, but as people become more comfortable with digital, it will increase. It’s another modality for delivery of care.”
It’s important for the healthcare industry to understand how the COVID-19 pandemic will affect business, not just this year but into the future as well, said panelist Bryan Crino, president of SCP & CO. He considered whether organizations will recover, or if the environment has changed and will require industry organizations to pivot further.
Which Healthcare Technologies Make the Biggest Impact?
Although technology is pervasive throughout the healthcare industry, Arnold said technologies that take the workload off practitioners, allowing them to spend more time with patients, are making the biggest impact.
“Things like EHRs add keyboard time. Analytics can see how long practitioners spend in the EHR, and it’s a camel hump every day for almost every provider. It drops around family dinner time but shoots back up again at night,” he said. “There’s a lot to be said about introducing technology that reduces those workloads. If a technology introduces more work for providers, it’s going to be a tougher play.”
On the patient side, Arnold said any technology that personalizes care and makes the patient’s interaction with healthcare organizations less transactional will be a winner.
Crino pointed out that there are many useful technologies in healthcare, but the industry itself often prevents widespread deployment and usage.
“The technology exists, but the question is when and how will we allow it to be adopted,” he said.
Despite this, Crino said artificial intelligence and diagnostic analytics could make a big difference in healthcare. For example, some providers are using AI to perform complex stroke diagnostics. However, some healthcare organizations, such as those in smaller communities, may not have access to this technology.
“Some of these technologies that can help with very rapid analytics can be disseminated to rural or less populated areas and save a ton of lives,” he said. “This is a fantastic area and an area we should pay more attention to.”
AI engines are processing the wealth of data coming from the consumer side to track chronic diseases and detect patterns, said Aspen RxHealth CEO David Medvedeff. AI can also determine the best channel through which clinicians can communicate with individual patients, whether via text message, chatbot or a direct conversation with a clinician.
“There’s also a tremendous amount of work being done on consumer-facing technologies around behavioral health. If we don’t crack that nut and figure out how to engage and monitor patients, everything else downstream breaks down, an example being medication adherence,” he said. “We need to be more focused on behavioral health management and the ability to allow patients to engage, track themselves and give providers early signals.”
Rachel Feinman, vice president of Tampa General Hospital’s InnoVentures, a venture capital fund, agreed with Crino’s point about healthcare lagging behind other industries on technology adoption.
“We’re all consumers of healthcare, but in other places in my life, they know me before I know what I need. We’re still getting used to some of that direct engagement, but I think there’s tremendous opportunity in healthcare for us to do that,” she said. “Considering the notion of value-based care, providers, payers and everyone in healthcare can reduce complexity but also use data in a way that serves our patients as consumers.”
She pointed out that she often must remember to make appointments to see her doctors and suggested the industry learn how to approach patients proactively, perhaps by using AI to create even more sophisticated patient outreach.
“The benefit for us as health system is the more we can keep a patient on the path of getting the care they need at the time and place they need it, the less complex and costly for all involved. And, ultimately, better care is provided,” she said.