A tech-powered future will increase personalized patient care

Used effectively, new technologies can deepen the existing, trust-based relationships that so many patients have with their physicians.

The cliché is as tired as it is true: “As a rule, doctors don’t like change and are slow to adopt new technologies”. But that doesn’t mean that we’re unable to pivot quickly when needed. The COVID-19 pandemic brought that to light with the dramatic changes in care delivery.

Nearly overnight, tens of thousands of primary care physicians nationwide switched from predominantly in-person patient visits to predominantly virtual visits. In doing so, primary care physicians showed that they are capable of massive shifts and can embrace new technologies along the way.

What has this transition taught us? Which changes from the past 18 months will recede and which ones will endure? Based on work with more than 1,000 PCPs, here are three key themes to watch.

Technology should be an enabler of more than efficiency

Telehealth, mobile apps, and other digital health solutions have increased convenience and extended access for patients and providers. It’s easy to think of them primarily as accelerants for more transactional care delivery; our network of physicians has shown that these tools can be much more than that. Used effectively, new technologies can deepen the existing, trust-based relationships that so many patients have with their physicians.

Data captured by digital health solutions can inform physician interactions with patients, prompt discovery tied more directly to a patient’s lifestyle, and guide care plans with a rich source of information. New channels for communication—whether virtual visitation, secure chat, or asynchronous messaging—can empower patients to be more active and collaborative participants in their own health journeys and convert traditional, episodic care to longitudinal patient care with team engagement.

Rather than removing physicians from the care equation, new tools and platforms for digital health introduce opportunities for greater accountability and partnership between physicians and their patients, all driving toward improved outcomes and better patient health.

Personal relationships in care still matter

It’s one thing to use technology to open doors for stronger patient-physician relationships. It’s another thing to do something with that open door. Primary care physicians would be wise to leverage digital solutions to amplify—not downplay—the human element of care. As technologies expand capacity for physicians, they can use that time and bandwidth to extend empathy and exercise care-driven curiosity for patients’ social determinants of health.

Extra relational interactions like seeking to understand whether patients have transportation for their necessary treatments, whether their family dynamics are impacting their ability to follow their care plan, or even whether prescription costs are affecting how and when they take their medications will continue to create outsized impact on patient outcomes and their long-term health.

New technologies require new capabilities (or even new roles)

More data and more data sources demand new processes to integrate that information into a practice’s array of workflows. This requires more administrative time that many smaller practices struggle to find. If a practice can afford it, designating (or hiring) an operational point-person to manage technology workflows substantially reduces the burden that can come with new technology integration. Including this operational capability into your practice ensures that you’re maximizing the value of new solutions more quickly and optimizing the value of your own clinical expertise. The investment—whether in a full-time resource or fractional/outsourced partner—should pay for itself by giving you more of what physicians need most: greater capacity to place more focus on personalized patient care. 

About the Author
Jeff Bullard, MD is the CMO at Catalyst Health Network