Communicating value, connectivity helps digital health tools succeed

Experts at the 2018 Connected Health Conference discussed the importance of technology adoption and how new tools can encourage stronger patient-provider relationships.
By Dave Muoio
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The challenges of new technology adoption loom across every industry, and healthcare is by no means an exception. Between its risk-adverse culture, worn out workforce, and heavy value placed on establishing human connections, it’s little surprise that many technologies which could potentially isolate patients or introduce unnecessary tasks would be met with some resistance.

“One of the hardest things is making changes when you’re working at capacity or beyond capacity. We know there’s physician burnout is a real problem right now, and we’re working in a system where everyone thinks they are working their hardest,” Dr. Ami Bhatt, director of outpatient cardiology and the adult congenital heart disease program at Massachusetts General Hospital, told MobiHealthNews. “With that in mind, providers are not against trying these things, but I think we need to show value in what we are offering.”

A strong emphasis on how virtual care and other tools can help the clinician extend their care beyond the hospital’s walls to reach the patients who might otherwise never engage with the system is a fast way to win over fans, Bhatt explained, and including providers with doubts into the planning and implementation process can both assuage their concerns and help device a stronger program. Well implemented program can reduce the daily strains of providing care, she continued, and communicating that benefit to the practitioners can go a long way.

“[For virtual care visits], it’s so much easier when you’re in a relaxed environment in your own home. You’ve gotten on your computer, you have the list of things you want to talk about,” she said. “And the provider doesn’t just get stopped by a nurse, run up to the floor to see somebody, have another patient in their mind that they’re trying to extricate themselves from [and then] to re-inculcate themselves into your experience. It’s a different way to come together, and enough can’t be said about it.”

One of the most prevalent concerns among providers is that technologies can reduce face-to-face care to impersonal, and subsequently inferior, interaction between a clinician and their patient. For many, these relationships are core to the culture of healthcare, Bhatt explained, and convincing practitioners that similar connections can be made through technology, and potentially to a greater number of people.

“When we think about delivering care to patients as providers, we think about shaking a patient’s hand. One of the the first things I love to do is actually take a blood pressure because that is a very unobtrusive way for me to lay a hand on the patient, establish that connection that we’re going to share for that visit and a lifetime of care,” she said. “You’re taking that from a provider. You’re also taking that human connection away from the patient. There’s a culture change or an understanding change that needs to happen, and it’s that we can still connect and communicate even when we’re not necessarily at that particular visit — that’s isn’t true for our entire relationship, but at least for that particular visit when we’re physically not in the same space. I think that’s hard for people on both sides to accept."

Speaking of the other side, many patients — especially those in the older demographic — share providers’ concerns when it comes to the quality of connected care. In these cases, the onus will primarily be on healthcare to communicate their value and develop smart implementations, explained Kelly Santomas, senior director for Partners HealthCare Connected Health Solutions.

“As a whole, I think patients are really interested in [connected health technologies]. There’s something about getting that really quick feedback,” Santomas told MobiHealthNews. “The challenge for providers is how do they incorporate that into their practice? Trying to figure out how to integrate the two is probably more of a challenge for us on the healthcare side.”

Digital technologies offer patients an opportunity to share what’s happening outside of the clinic with their provider, Santomas said. Specifically, she stressed that a patient-friendly technology should always be built with a benefit in mind (“don’t do things just because you can”), they when possible encourage collaborative efforts between the patient and their doctor.

“The biggest thing for us is, we want to be able to provide patients with technology that helps them manage their health, that gets them engaged in their health and take control, and also do it so that they’re able to partner with their clinicians,” she said. “We don’t want it to be [where] the patient is doing something one way and the clinician is doing it another. We’re looking to find a best practice for how you can use technology in a way that isn’t seen as intrusive, but as enhancing the overall care of the patient.”

Bhatt and Santomas will be discussing these topics and others at next week’s Connected Health Conference in Boston. Santomas’ session, “PGHD End User Experience: Patients and Providers,” will be held at 12:40 p.m. on Thursday, October 18. Bhatt’s session, “Making Connected Health Work for Physicians,” will be held at 1:40 p.m. that same day.

Connected Health Conference

Join PCHAlliance and the Partners Connected Health Symposium in Boston Oct. 17-19.