Effects of Technology On Transforming Physician Workflow


Imagine if you will a utopia of health and wellness and healing, where data flows freely, physicians whistle on their rounds, patients thrive, and transparency reigns. It could be possible! Technology is making great strides in healthcare and while patients are indeed at the center of every effort, physicians are benefiting from new tools as well. Technology is how we can help them, help us, and it’s never been more critical to do so. 


The rate of physician burnout is rising and while some of that exhaustion can be fairly attributed to the burden of medical administration, data entry, or what some refer to as “desktop medicine,” physicians cite that what they’d really like is 50% more quality time with their patients (NIH). The sheer quantity of patients seen in a day, in an hour, averaging just 15 minutes per visit in the US, illustrates the demand for medical attention. But the supply isn’t keeping pace. 


The first few waves of solving this conundrum has been to integrate technology into the workflow - namely the advent of Electronic Medical Records - by streamlining processes and freeing up physicians to see more patients. And indeed this is critical groundwork, without which we wouldn’t be able to draw connections between disparate data points and form new diagnoses. The unexpected consequence of this particular form of technology integration however is a population of care providers who feel that increased interaction with screens is antithetical to their true purpose in medicine - to treat patients. The goal is not to replace physicians but to use technology to enhance their skill set and remove administrative burden, thus freeing them up to actually practice. But more to the point, if both patients and physicians themselves are demanding more from the experience, how can our biggest resource - technology - play an even bigger role here?


Examples of health technologies abound. There were 325,000 in the App Store alone as of Spring 2017 to be exact. It’s a lot, and cynics may say the cacophony of options is too much. But it’s actually not enough. It’s not enough because we haven’t yet figured out which ones float to the top and how they all play together. There is a critical mass required within the digital health space for which the weight of new technologies must become so strong that it pushes old ideas out and creates space for the system to evolve. In time this will create a professional culture in which we no longer treat tech as burdensome and instead treat tech as a tool to augment physician practice, increasing rates of successful patient management and improved outcomes. 


The solutions fall into a variety of buckets from administration to collaboration, and include technologies like voice assistant, Natural Language Processing, making sense of free text, automation of scheduling appointments and patient care follow-up, cross referencing drug interactions, coordinating care teams, and more. If all of this happened smoothly in the background, then collecting data not only in the office visit experience but throughout the patient's daily life (see Digital Diagnosis Closes the Gap in Preventative Care) then physicians would be leaps and bounds ahead of the conversation and could have more informed conversations with their patients at the point of care. 


Take Dr. Eric Topol, a cardiologist out of Scripps in Los Angeles for instance. Dr. Topol is a pioneer and advocate in the field of digitizing healthcare, who routinely uses apps and add-ons to his iPhone in place of traditional medical equipment. This not only allows him to capture information in real time, but information that will stream right into the EHR and is made instantly available to the patient in real time. “The digital world has been in a separate orbit from our medical cocoon,” he says ”and it’s time the boundaries be taken down.”


For technologists who are developing the future of healthcare, physician tools are a great imperative. After all, if we are to prioritize how we support those amongst us who are tasked with saving lives, our collective goal must be an ecosystem, an Internet of things, stocked with technical tools for physicians. 

Grace Moen