The physician’s role is drastically changing. More and more physicians are becoming institutional employees. More patient encounters are performed via non-physician providers. The increasing regulatory demands on physicians are consuming an inordinate amount of their time. Stress and burnout are universal to some degree. Both the financial and emotional rewards of practicing medicine have greatly diminished. They are becoming more quality control officers than healthcare providers. However, physicians will never become irrelevant, and their key position regarding healthcare technology needs to be recognized for a number of reasons.
1. Physicians are important to adoption of new technology. Physicians are the first line of adoption of new technology. If physicians recommend a technology tool such as a medical app or home monitoring device to patients, there is a significantly higher chance the patient will use it than if it were picked up as a consumer item. This is because hopefully its use would be discussed in the context of a comprehensive treatment plan and not in a technological or commercial vacuum.
2. Technology which incorporates a physician’s clinical perspective during development promotes success. Technology which is centered on solving a specific clinical or healthcare problem is more visionary than one which is a product looking for a market. Economic pressures and physician shortages are producing a need for technology which is designed around solving existing problems. Physicians are on the front line of recognizing a clinical need for which even a workflow solution might potentially result in a better patient outcome. Technology developers should not wait until the completion of a project or the commercial failure of a product to bring in an experienced physician advisor who might add invaluable counsel.
3. Physicians are ‘mobile’. Most physicians own smart phones and a significant portion own tablets. Most desire mobile solutions for electronic health records. This creates an environment conducive to mobile diagnostic and treatment solutions which are gaining in popularity. Medical apps will be prescribed for patients. They are easy to prescribe, convey educational content to patients, and promote patient involvement and adherence. Mobility is increasing among patients as well. Of paramount importance is that the technology needs to offer quality solutions which are cost saving and result in better outcomes. These are mantras for digital health but worthy of repeating.
4. Physician adoption of technology will drive adoption by other stakeholders. Physicians are seen as pivotal players in healthcare by insurers, hospitals, medical technology companies and entities such as ACOs. Technologies such as EHRs are mandated. Other types of technologies are not. It is these others which seek the endorsement of physicians to help facilitate their incorporation into medical practice by them as well as other non-physician providers. A hospital might not adopt a mobile technology strategy unless a critical mass of physicians asks for it. An EHR company might not incorporate other technologies with connectivity unless requested by key customers.
Technology is developing at unimaginable speed and degrees. What we must be careful of is developing technologies in search of a purpose, those which are redundant, and those which are neither intuitive nor easily adoptable for other reasons. Physicians can play key roles in the development, promotion, and adoption of worthy technologies both to peers and patients.