There are 6 critical steps to bridge the digital health gap
Since 2010, digital health companies have raised over $100 billion in venture capital, with the majority of that funding coming in the past three years as the COVID-19 pandemic pushed telehealth to the forefront.
Despite the entry of promising new digital health tools, there has been little progress in addressing health care access, quality, outcomes, affordability, and equity.
Simply put, the U.S. healthcare system is only just beginning to tap the full potential of digitally enabled care. A new report from the American Medical Association and Manatt Health seeks to bridge the gap between the promise and reality of digital health.
More than 40 leaders of physician practises, health systems, digital health companies, venture funds, employers, and health plans were interviewed for the report “Future of Health: Closing the Digital Health Disconnect: A Blueprint for Optimizing Digitally Enabled Care” (PDF).
Some of the foundational tenets for optimising digitally enabled care are laid out in the AMA Future of Health Report, along with opportunities for stakeholders and case studies of organisations that have implemented care models that make use of digital care.
According to Jack Resneck Jr., MD, president of the American Medical Association, “when equitably designed and thoughtfully integrated, digital health tools can effectively augment and enhance care.” However, digital health products frequently operate in isolation, which can lead to even more disorganisation, higher costs, and subpar patient experiences. The AMA’s blueprint lays out paths for physicians and other stakeholders to work together to improve the health of the nation by maximising the benefits of digitally enabled care.
The report expands on the “Return on Health” report published by the American Medical Association and Manatt, which offered a framework for explaining the benefits of digitally enabled care in terms of improved health for patients, clinicians, insurers, and society as a whole.
Structured on these six pillars
These six pillars are included in the report to facilitate the full integration of in-person and virtual care models that hybridise care delivery based on clinical appropriateness and other factors such as convenience, cost, and equity.
Create for the benefit of patients, doctors, and healthcare workers. Digitally enabled care models should be developed with human-centered design approaches that prioritise patient and physician needs over regulatory and billing requirements. This is true regardless of whether the model is being developed by a digital health company, a large health system, a federally qualified health centre, a physician practise, or someone else. Patients, doctors, and clinicians should all be able to easily use any new technological platforms.
Create with a focus on equity. Care must be taken to accommodate patients’ age, gender, race, language, and other social determinants of health and to use digital tools as a bridge to more equitable care. The American Medical Association’s (AMA) In Full Health Learning & Action Community to Advance Equitable Health Innovation lays out the principles that should guide such initiatives.
Refocus attention on the doctor-patient bond. Over the past decade, virtual care providers have marketed their services to large, self-insured businesses, which then provide them to their employees. They have also formed alliances with health insurance providers. The services are no longer integrated into the routine medical care that patients receive. It is essential to reemphasize the primacy of the patient-physician relationship to ensure care is optimally managed and coordinated, as this is the key to early disease detection and treatment.
Reform and implement payment systems that reward excellent medical work. It is important for healthcare providers, such as doctors, to know that digital health modalities will continue to be supported by payment models. One healthcare organisation that has fully embraced digitally enabled care is Kaiser Permanente.
Develop methods and policies to lessen the impact of fragmentation. It is important to coordinate between digitally enabled care models, both online and in traditional care facilities. Rules for the free and open exchange of information must be drafted, revised, and strictly enforced by policymakers.
Rapidly expand models supported by empirical data. There are currently neither strong incentives nor established platforms for disseminating pilot results, and as a result, speed of scale is frequently linked to misaligned financial incentive. Organizations can learn from one another’s successes if they share data, knowledge, and findings from empirical research. Adoption rates could rise if care models were created in tandem with interested parties.
More examples of digitally enabled care will be collected and displayed, and the AMA will provide advice on how to deal with challenges like interoperability and the lack of adequate funding for implementing cutting-edge technology. You can contact the AMA’s digital health team via email if you’d like to contribute to this effort or present a case study.
Explore the American Medical Association’s (AMA) pioneering efforts in digital health through resources like the AMA Physician Innovation Network and the AMA’s digital health implementation playbook series.
The American Medical Association’s Recovery Plan for America’s Physicians includes telehealth as a central strategy because of its importance to the future of health care.