Editor’s Note: Robert Rohatsch is Solv Health’s Chief Medical Officer.
The rapid adoption of digital health technologies like telemedicine, asynchronous chat, and wearable diagnostic devices is seen by some as an existential threat to the future of general practice. And it’s true – there’s a tectonic shift underway in the American healthcare landscape. I often warn my friends and fellow GPs that clinging to the traditional model of outpatient care is a one-way ticket to obsolescence.
But when I look at the digital technologies that disintermediate the relationship between GPs and patients, I don’t just see cool gadgets and consumerized software replacing GPs. On the contrary, I see highly empowered physicians with the potential to finally fix what has long been broken in our healthcare system and do more good than ever before.
As a physician and tech entrepreneur who has worked on both the provider side and the payer side, I have a pretty good understanding of how American healthcare works. I argue that the digital transformation of healthcare will finally help GPs get back to what most of us really want to do in the first place – keeping patients healthy. But only if we allow it. Here is what I mean:
There are five ways doctors can let patients down
General practitioners are responsible for triage, low-acuity care, chronic care, medical coordination, and preventive care. Regardless of our capabilities and commitment, peak performance in these five areas is simply not possible for independent practitioners and small clinics. As a result, most GPs tend to really excel in a few of the five areas and strive to provide at least adequate care in the others.
The unfortunate results are well known: long wait times, little valuable time between patients and doctors, confusing and sometimes incorrect communications, and too little attention to preventive care. The struggle to master the five areas of responsibility makes physicians feel overworked and exhausted, and leaves patients confused and neglected.
Digital health technologies ease the burden on general practitioners
Digital health technologies are doing for ambulatory healthcare what other B2B, cloud-based and API-first technologies have already done for other industries.
Telemedicine and asynchronous chat, for example, can handle much of the triage work. Remotely connected blood glucose monitors, digital blood pressure cuffs, and consumer smartwatches can record and analyze vital signs to help manage chronic conditions like diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Technologies like these are already making it easy and cost-effective for GPs to harness patient health data and information without advanced skills or expensive infrastructure. For GPs, this means greater certainty and reduced time investment in the five areas of their competence. For patients, this means receiving convenient, cost-effective, quality care when and how they need it, as they would expect in any other industry.
Digital health technologies are on a tear, getting better every day, with the benefit of billions of investments of the business community. In the coming years, we will see the democratization of existing diagnostic technologies such as genetic, epigenetic and microbiomic testing, as well as the consumerization of newer technologies such as embedded sensors, retinal scanning glasses and nanorobots. . Before long, much of what GPs and diagnostic labs do today will be supported by on-demand third-party services and devices.
When GPs have such easy access to best-in-class solutions in most five areas of ambulatory care, they will be freed from many of the burdens they carry today.
The doctor of the future will be different and better
So what will GPs do in all this new time? A vision for the future of general care is: They will finally be able to focus more on preventative care, which is unfortunately the last priority in many busy doctor’s offices.
With much of the triage, chronic care, and medical coordination streamlined and automated by remote digital solutions, seeing a doctor from the not-too-distant future might not seem so different than meeting up for coffee with a caring friend. Armed with data on your vital signs, pharmacological care and other important aspects of your healthcare, your GP will meet with you to learn more about the social determinants of your health and ask you questions about your preventive health goals. .
Instead of being quickly transferred to a busy doctor’s surgery once a year or only when you are sick, your GP will constantly monitor your health and work with you as a sort of retained “healthcare coach” to help you. to continue to give the best of yourself.
The focus on preventive care needs something else
To achieve this vision, of course, we need more than consumer demand and technology. The third leg of the stool is the realignment of healthcare payment models. Instead of paying GPs based on the number of tests they perform or the number of procedures they perform, we need to look to value-based models of care (VBC) that reward doctors for keeping patients healthy.
The health of our country is ranked near the bottom among all developed nations. I believe now is the perfect time to demand change. I also believe that redefining the doctor-patient relationship and the compensation model for our healthcare professionals is the ideal starting point.