The future belongs to digitally savvy clinicians
August 3, 2021
We’re about to see something extraordinary happen among healthcare clinicians. As a physician myself, I‘m excited to see a technology-driven sea change, as more digitally adept clinicians move to healthcare’s forefront. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the rate at which the industry embraces digital solutions, and many clinicians appear eager to climb aboard the digital bandwagon. Ultimately, this will foster a new generation of digitally fluent clinicians who use these tools to put people – patients, their families and caregivers – at the center of everything they do.
Accenture recently surveyed over 300 US clinicians as part of the 2021 HIMSS State of Healthcare report to understand their perspectives on how the industry is changing and what’s shaping the path ahead.
The clinician profile that emerges reveals nearly half of respondents are early technology adopters in their personal lives – a finding that resonates with the historical inclination of doctors to be among the first to embrace useful new technologies. In yesteryear, for instance, they quickly traded in their horse-drawn buggies for early cars to make house calls1. However, more than half of clinicians (53%) view themselves as technology followers, willing to adopt new digital solutions in their personal lives based on recommendations. Only 3% say they avoid having to get or use new technology, mainly with those age 57 and above.
In their professional lives, most clinicians clearly appreciate digital health tools2 and 92% recommend their use to patients, with the top three recommendations being electronic health records, remote/virtual care with a healthcare professional, and mobile/tablet applications. However, some clinicians clearly endorse the expanded use of digital health tools while others remain indifferent. About a quarter of respondents agree with the statement, “digital health tools were difficult to make productive, increased the clinician’s burden and wasted time.” But nearly twice as many disagree with those sentiments. This “digital divide” among clinicians is important because the shift to advanced digital solutions is here to stay. In fact, over 70% of those surveyed say they will continue to use digital health tools to the same or greater extent when the pandemic subsides.
Our research as well as what we are experiencing in the market suggests a “changing of the guard” is about to take place, as more digitally experienced clinicians assume key positions in healthcare organizations. The implications for career paths and staffing decisions could be significant.
Our research highlights a minor but noticeable demographic digital divide across a number of different digital applications, where the age of the clinician plays a role. On the whole, clinicians as a group appear open to digital solutions and recommend them to patients. In some areas, however, ten-point-or-greater gaps arise. For example, 55% of clinicians in the 25-40 age range say they currently have text-based interactions with patients while only 43% of the age 57-and-above group do, and 46% of the younger group use mobile apps for remote patient monitoring, while only 28% of those in the 57-and-above age group do the same. Another example concerns the use of digital technologies to support or augment clinical decision-making: 41% of respondents within the age group 25-40 use them compared to 29% of clinicians age 57 and older.
AI and machine learning (ML) are hot topics among clinicians, with 77% supporting their use, but so far, fewer than one in five have received training in them. This finding mirrors the experience of many health systems, according to our survey, where 68% believe they must grow their AI/ML investments to achieve enterprise goals, but 70% have yet to implement strategic AI/ML programs.
Having clinicians who deeply understand the benefits of new digital solutions and use them appropriately improves a health organization’s effectiveness, efficiency, and competitiveness3. It’s a no-brainer. Consequently, health organizations need to expand the ways they support the digital competency of their medical staff. In addition to building awareness in the use of digital technologies, companies should focus on eliminating several key impediments to adoption:
Clinicians have a lot to deal with in the age of COVID-19 as they strive to put people at the center of their efforts. I believe new digital solutions and remote treatment options can help them overcome operational obstacles and improve their patient relationships and experiences. However, keeping up with digital progress is a lot like keeping up with medical evidence: it’s a swiftly moving target. Today, things like gaining general digital fluency to recommend tools to patients and using tools across clinical and administrative domains represent the digital baseline. Having a medical staff that not only recognizes the power of digital healthcare but also takes full advantage of its benefits can give providers a competitive edge4. That’s why I believe it’s imperative that health systems redouble their efforts to cultivate teams of digitally fluent clinicians and have a robust strategy to fully unlock the potential of their newly elevated Healthcare Digirati.
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1. Loudon, Irvine, “Medicine before the motor car,” Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, June 1, 2009, 219-222 – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2697046/
2. Including but not limited to virtual health, appointment scheduling, remote monitoring medical devices, wearable medical devices, text-based interactions with patients, mobile apps for remote patient monitoring, and virtual reality.
3. Seixas et al. 2021; Optimizing Healthcare Through Digital Health and Wellness Solutions to Meet the Needs of Patients With Chronic Disease During the COVID-19 Era. Front. Public Health, 12 July 2021 | https://doi.org/10.3389/fpubh.2021.667654
4. How to Narrow the Digital Divide in U.S. Health Care by Urmimala Sarkar, Sarah Lisker, and Courtney R. Lyles May 6th, 2021; https://hbr.org/2021/05/how-to-narrow-the-digital-divide-in-u-s-health-care