It is not uncommon for people to wait weeks or even months to see a health professional after seeing their primary care physician and being told that this is the necessary course of action to resolve their problem. For some insurance plans, this is the only process for seeing a specialist. Other plans allow users to see a specialist directly, but they must be in-network. Health care plans, and indeed the entire system, have become more complex over the years, and people are left to maneuver as best they can with little or no guidance or suffer the sometimes unpleasant consequences of waiting. Technology can help speed up the process of virtually connecting the patient and doctor, whether it’s electronic health records or telehealth.
Albert Einstein famously said, “If you can’t explain it to a 6-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself.” One would have a hard time explaining the US health care system easily to a child. Multiple regulations, insurance requirements, and barriers to reaching the right doctor prevent patients from getting the immediate care they need.
Experts predict that the global digital health market will grow at an annual rate of 18.6% until 2030. And while this brings opportunities, healthcare should be about people. Here’s the catch 22: the only way to make healthcare work for the people is to use the right technology. As an example, telemedicine platforms have the ability to cut out middlemen (insurance companies) that can limit a patient’s treatment options.
Patients who are faced with the challenge of choosing the best treatment option and who are not clear about how to make a health care decision should be able to seek a second medical opinion in a timely manner without intermediaries delaying this process. Second opinions give patients a better understanding of what’s going on, as well as a new perspective to help them navigate the best next steps.
Technology: The heart of the solution
As technology advances in every industry, including healthcare, and digital adoption continues to skyrocket post-pandemic, healthcare providers and intermediaries must adapt to these changes. New technologies are being introduced every day that can streamline the process.
For example, during the global pandemic, most primary care physicians found a way to shift some of their practices to serve patients seeking remote care. Physicians were able to easily adapt their skill sets and join telemedicine. The shift to telemedicine has provided direct access to patients who need it most. It proved that you can get quality information about your health and connect with doctors using technology. These digital health platforms can ensure that doctors have the right patient information (ie, medical records or patient data). This will help the doctor to understand the patient faster, which leads to a reduction in costs and at the same time streamlining the process.
Generative AI and emerging technologies have the potential to drive between $1 trillion and $1.5 trillion in investment by 2027. To further leverage technology in healthcare, we have begun to see ChatGPT-4 being used to enhance rather than threaten , doctor/patient engagement. This is an improvement and just the beginning of how generative AI can play the role of “AI-as-an-an-an” in healthcare. The focus is on understanding the real benefits and limitations of ChatGPT. Healthcare professionals (HCPs) should recognize this and other AI solutions as productivity enhancers for HCPs.
Generally speaking, intermediaries in any industry survive due to information asymmetry and lack of knowledge. AI can help quickly fill the information asymmetry gap by effectively matching patients and doctors across geographies, leading to faster consultations.
By enabling easier access to global healthcare solutions, ChatGPT-4 can also help accelerate the creative thinking needed to solve problems and ultimately benefit the entire healthcare ecosystem. With generative AI improvements, doctors will be able to discover new solutions to health problems that have so far had limited treatment. This can lead to better patient outcomes and contribute to the advancement of global healthcare.
We’re not there…yet
Even with the continuous improvement of technology, the current American health care system is riddled with problems that reduce the quality of care a patient can receive. According to Merritt Hawkins, the wait time to see a doctor last year increased to an average of 22 days. For people who need help, this time is unacceptable. Hence the need to review potential technology offerings and determine how best to use them to ensure quality and timely patient care.
For example, people should be able to visit a specialist virtually without bank charges. This is possible by unlocking doctor availability, which can help optimize costs for the patient population. This can only happen with the right technology – such as data interoperability between physician calendar platforms.
The technology enables more efficient consultations between patients and doctors and can lead to a healthier patient population. This has the potential to result in lower costs for insurance companies because patients will be more adherent to prescriptions and treatments. Adherence to over-the-counter medications is a major challenge for the entire country, and this can be more effectively tracked and driven with virtual primary care and related technologies.
The focus must return to delivering patient care as efficiently as possible and how technology can help achieve this goal in 2024 and beyond. There is still much work to be done to ensure that intermediaries do not impede needed treatment. To reorient the healthcare industry toward successful patient outcomes, it must embrace all that technology has to offer within the confines of privacy. This can be done if the focus is more on the why: the people.
Dhruv Suyamprakasam is the founder of iCliniq