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Digital divide threatens healthcare innovation

Consumers and physicians are open to technology innovation, but progress is slow due to tech adoption at a varying pace and focus on different priorities, says report

Consumers and physicians are open to technology innovation, but progress is slow due to tech adoption at a varying paces and a focus on different priorities, says report.

According to the NextWave Health Report by EY, some 59% of the consumers polled in England are interested in having a virtual consultation, but only 7% have had access to one, the report said.

Conversely, 59% of physicians would consider remote consults, but only 13% deliver services that way.

Technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) will be the norm for diagnosis, medical imaging analysis and medication management over the next decade, 56% of the physicians surveyed said. Some 51% of the customers polled also think that will be the case.

The majority of the health practitioners surveyed (69%) said companies from outside the health industry will bring “profoundly different” approaches to the sector, with 51% of the participant consumers saying that will be the case.

According to the study, digital health progress is hampered by a divide that exists between – digitally engaged and excluded – consumers and physicians as they adopt technologies at their own pace.

As patients become increasingly interested in technologies that take complexity away from system interactions such as making appointments online and digital systems that support greater personal involvement, physicians have different priorities.

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According to the study, physicians say patient-generated health data contributed to better outcomes and many believe a share of their current patient population could be managed virtually, in real time. However, the study points out professionals don’t appear to have incorporated tech to engage with consumers outside the clinical setting into “practice-as-usual”.

“As consumers demand for an adoption of tech-enabled care reaches the tipping point, physicians will be challenged to respond, or be out-competed and left behind,” the report said, adding that closing this gap in technology adoption is key.

“Patients’ access to technologies often depends upon physicians’ willingness to recommend them and encourage and support patients to acquire the health literacy skills necessary to participate in a patient-centred system.”

As the core business of healthcare moves towards remote delivery, diagnostics supported by AI, analytics and interactive, person-centred tools in the next decade to deliver services more efficiently, the sector needs to connect the dots between what customers want and what is available to them.

“Physicians as trusted advisors are key to educating, steering and supporting the consumer through their health journey,” the report said. “This requires a shift in practice, skills and remuneration structures to support physicians incorporating this into routine practice.”

The report added that change in the sector is working in favour of the consumer and that “it’s time for physicians to catch up”.

EY surveyed physicians and healthcare consumers in England, Australia and the Netherlands for the report. Some 178 physicians and 2,031 consumers were polled in England.

As technology-based change reshape the healthcare industry, the EY report lists four areas to be considered:

  • How can physicians and other stakeholders in healthcare must take to get the patient experience right;
  • How can the growing digital divide between patients and physicians be addressed;
  • What does success look like for those making small or large digital investment decisions in healthcare;
  • How can existing healthcare providers respond to disruptive new market entrants.

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