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Could technology make health care more human?


Or have the divisive opinions of the health care community left this question unanswered?

The concept of innovation in the health care sector has always been met with raised eyebrows. Within this high-stakes environment, digital transformation – specifically the introduction of new technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) – has been hindered by issues of cost, compliance, regulation, reimbursement, and cultural barriers.

Sheetal Chawla, Capgemini: ©Capgemini

Sheetal Chawla, Capgemini: ©Capgemini

Connected health – the intersection of digital and legacy care – has often been touted as a way to harness the capabilities of technology to improve patient care and outcomes. The concept of connected health was propelled forward by the pandemic, with many leaders in the health care system starting to evaluate whether this technology could actually be used to make health care more humanized.

Abhishek Khandelwal, Capgemini: ©Capgemini

Abhishek Khandelwal, Capgemini: ©Capgemini

During the time when the world shut down and a major health crisis ensued, technology was able to increase connectivity and disrupt this industry in new and exciting ways. Through online support groups, virtual appointments, and more, not only did the relationship between patients and their physicians change, but virtual relationships between patients were made possible – though the question of effectiveness looms.

While many experts believe that the continued interjection of technology into the health care space will increase its humanity, others know that it may not be that simple.

The evolving patient-physician relationship

Over the past several decades, the relationship between physicians and their patients has changed significantly. With the continued advancement of technology, patients have never had more access to health care resources and information than they do today. Modern patients have taken greater ownership over their health, and even work with their physicians to understand emerging trends and how that impacts their diagnosis and treatment. Many patients feel that access to online portals, where they can message their providers directly and connect virtually, has brought them closer to their physician and led to a greater feeling of control over their health care experience.

Research shows that nearly half (46%) of all consumers (and 56% of those aged 23 to 38) said they were comfortable with using technology to manage their health today. In this sense, technology has allowed consumers to feel a closer relationship with their providers, while also experiencing increased ownership over their own health journey.

Clinical trials and telehealth

The benefits of technology have also become evident through telehealth. Research has showed that while telehealth appointments on average are much shorter than in-person visits, they are significantly more productive. Between commuting to the office and time spent in the waiting room, patients typically spend more time in the lead up to the appointment than in the exam room speaking with their physician. While some may argue that this streamlined version of health care is actually de-humanizing the experience, maybe humanizing health care is more about allowing patients to live their normal lives with health care made as easy as putting gas in their car. Perhaps health care is about the ability to get the care needed, when it is needed, and not spend double the time waiting around for an in-person interaction that can be just as effective online.

Clinical trials have also been enhanced by technology. The early stages of research and development, as well as recruiting and retaining patients, have traditionally been major barriers to the completion of clinical trial phases. What’s further, rare diseases have made it difficult to geographically locate enough patients to participate in these trials. Through virtual appointments and telehealth, sample sizes can be expanded across geographies, leading to faster completion of trials, time-to-market for medications, and curing of diseases. Coming together globally to help fight and cure diseases faster has certainly humanized the clinical trial process.

Understanding the health care ecosystem

Contrary to those who recognize the humanization of modern health care, there are others that believe there is still much work to be done. Specifically in the United States, there are many experts that understand the health care system to be emergency and revenue oriented – in turn having lost its empathy.

The sentiment that the U.S. health care ecosystem is designed to push urgent and emergency care, which results in increased profit for hospitals, has led many to believe that health care organizations are not incentivized to humanize, but rather to improve efficiency, performance, and revenue outcomes. The idea that there is technology not being leveraged because it does not push the revenue agenda has many questioning how human health care truly is in the U.S.

For example, international markets have begun utilizing voice analysis on emergency lines. Through voice analysis, the responder can assess the tone of the patient and analyze vocal patterns for stress, anger, etc. to better understand the emergency. However, this capability is not being used in America. Is this perhaps a missed opportunity to link efficiency with humanity?

Data challenges

Access to personal data has proven to be a very divisive topic in the health care sector. Many health care organizations wish to keep patient data to themselves instead of offering patients full access. But what if patients could have a digital wallet on their personal device with all of their medical records? This wallet could be leveraged by patients – whether at the oncologist or at a Pilates class – to have a full, longitudinal view of their medical history at all times.

Giving patients ownership of their medical portfolio, as opposed to several siloed medical companies owning one’s medical data, is a push that many experts argue will humanize health care even further. However, the high value stakes of medical data, paired with the complex process of data sharing and associated security risks, have prevented this type of technology.

So which argument is truly valid? The simple answer is that technology itself provides the opportunity to explore more humanizing techniques across all industries – health care included. Though there have been significant strides made to the relationship between patients and practitioners, clinical trials, and virtual patient support, economic and data-driven opportunities still exist.

As with many industries, humanizing health care is a work in progress, and does not mean the same thing to all people – but it is progress, nonetheless.

Sheetal Chawla is the Head of Life Sciences for Capgemini Americas. She has more than 13 years of experience in strategy development, market analytics, marketing and business valuation. In her current role, she leads the life sciences practice at Capgemini Americas and provides industry thought leadership on digital transformation.

Abhishek Khandelwal is Vice President of Life Sciences for Capgemini Engineering. With more than 12 years of industry experience, Abhishek leads the Medical Devices and Healthcare Technologies sector for Capgemini.

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