The world is rapidly becoming more digitalized, and the coronavirus pandemic drove a lot of technological development in healthcare. With emerging technologies like robots that perform surgery and artificial intelligence-driven chatbots, the concern that tech is dehumanizing healthcare is real. After all, no one wants a robot making all of their healthcare decisions or attending to their needs. This is especially true after the pandemic, which demonstrated the importance of empathy and connection while finding new ways of facilitating remote contact and treatment. The remarkable thing about healthcare is that digitalization has actually done the opposite of dehumanization; it has made healthcare more human-centric, or so some would argue.
The Telehealth Visit and Its Impact on Patient Care
Throughout the pandemic, technology has been used to create virtual connections while maintaining the human element of healthcare. It has become an aid rather than something that has taken over healthcare delivery. In that manner, technology has allowed human connection to be the key driver in healthcare delivery. According to research, the pandemic has actually brought patients closer to primary care providers, which was largely facilitated through the expansion of telemedicine. More than 70 percent of Americans have indicated that they do not want to go to a doctor’s office because of fears about COVID-19, which means that telehealth visits have skyrocketed. These visits are typically structured much differently than office visits, which has provided more time for patients to interact with providers.
Although the average doctor appointment takes about two hours, only about 20 minutes of that time is spent in doctor-patient interaction. A lot of the rest of the time is spent waiting for the physician. This time commitment can be difficult for people to fit into their schedules, especially when they know that much of the time will be wasted. On the other hand, telehealth visits average between 13 and 15 minutes, but more than half of people say these appointments have made them feel more involved in healthcare decisions because they spend the whole time with the physician. Another part of this equation is the fact that chatbots and other diagnostic tools have made people more informed when they come to an appointment, so they can ask more focused questions about the issue at hand.
Also, scheduling for telehealth is much easier since the time commitment is so much less. This means that people end up seeing their physicians faster, which has resulted in quicker diagnoses and better overall treatment. One study saw that only 1 in 825 telemedicine appointments was canceled in a 10-week period, which is far less than the rate of cancellations that existed before the pandemic. Ultimately, telehealth visits are saving both patients and physicians time while improving access to physicians and driving equal, if not better, treatment for patients. While it seems like remote treatment would be dehumanizing, it has actually created new opportunities for developing relationships through convenience.
The Other Key Benefits of Healthcare Digitalization
The other major benefit of digitalizing healthcare has been the creation of new communities and networks for support. Patients can connect with each other easier than ever before. A recent Facebook study showed that nearly half of all respondents actually turned to digital groups for support during the pandemic. These groups provide more than just emotional support. Patients have the ability to share and learn about their experiences and those of others, including discussing treatments and fears. This is especially important for patients with rare diseases who may not have anyone in their geographical going undergoing something similar. Technology makes it easy for these individuals to connect with their peers and feel seen and supported.
Furthermore, technology has helped professionals explore the disparities in healthcare that became apparent during the pandemic. Finding solutions that work across the entire population is extremely important moving forward, and technology can help recruit more diverse patient populations when it comes to conducting medical trials. The pandemic introduced many decentralized trials, which use technology to conduct studies that are more accessible and inclusive. Such trials include providing patients with monitoring devices to wear at home that can give researchers a better sense of health patterns and habits. Patients who would not otherwise be able to take time off to participate can because of technological advances that facilitate participation from home. Technology has allowed researchers to be more connected to patients and enroll more people in their studies.
The Path Forward for Humanizing Healthcare Technology
The pandemic will likely have changed the world forever, and these new technologies in healthcare are here to stay. Instead of driving us apart, technology has made healthcare delivery much more humanized and focused on patient needs. Moving forward, technology can make healthcare delivery even more efficient and inclusive, provided that this is a primary goal of development. Now that it has been shown how technology can make experiences more human, it is important to maintain this focus. With this approach to tech development, the new normal will be even more human-centric than what we had before – despite the distance between us.