By Dr.Lauren Vivian, CHIO, Pacific Medical Group
COVID-19 shed light on many health disparities and inequities within the U.S healthcare system. While many of those shortcomings were discussed at length before the pandemic, analysts predicted that a health crisis such as what we are experiencing today could irreparably break an already failing system. As healthcare leaders grapple with the best solutions to address the myriad of issues plaguing the current system, patient mistrust, physician burnout, and insurance losses are at an all-time high. Amid this COVID-fueled crisis, alternate care delivery models such as telehealth, virtual care, and in-home care have been rapidly embraced by patients and practitioners, signaling a new era in digital healthcare.
Crisis of Confidence
Trust is foundational to any relationship. Over the past half-century, trust in health care and organized medicine among Americans took a significant decline. Studies have shown that people have more confidence in their providers than the “healthcare system” and “Big Pharma”. These findings were consistent with a 2021 survey of trust in the U.S. healthcare system, which also reported that physician trust decreased during the COVID-19 pandemic. Physicians surveyed had the lowest confidence in health insurance companies and the most faith in governmental agencies. The same survey found that the public had the most confidence in hospitals and the least in health insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies.
Within the public group surveyed, the distrust was even more apparent among Blacks and other marginalized groups. Factors contributing to the public’s declining trust included limited time for communication, increased healthcare costs, and lack of transparency. These trust deficits have a trickle-down effect resulting in decreased patient compliance, poor health outcomes, and increased tax dollar spending. Given the waning trust, it comes as no surprise that there is division in the country over the COVID-19 vaccine and its effectiveness.
Despite the doom and gloom the statistics portray, there is a silver lining. Patients who distrust health institutions report having confidence in their physicians. Good news, right? If we consider a meta-analysis that showed a “small to moderate correlation” between trust and health outcomes, then the answer would be yes. In terms of expenditures, these improved health outcomes would lessen the burden on an already financially drained health system while reinforcing patient’s confidence. So, how do clinicians leverage patient’s trust in them to address the complex issues in health care? By empowering them to take an active role in managing their care. What would be required to facilitate this type of transformation? Digital health.
Digital Health to The Rescue
The technological advances developed in the last decade have assisted people in managing business closures and social distancing throughout the pandemic. However, in the health arena, aside from telehealth apps which enable clinicians and patients to connect, the system lacks technology-driven innovation. As health care organizations struggle to restore the system, they must rethink many of their past assumptions. In particular, the importance of digital health.
The pandemic exposed the dire need to rebuild our health system in a way that addresses the long-standing issues and proactively prevents future disruptions of health services. In taking on this challenge, healthcare entities will need to consider alternate care models that embrace technology. These models must be primary care physician-led: capitalizing on patients’ trust in their clinicians and reducing physicians’ burdens. They must be customer-centric: empowering patients to become partners with their clinicians and cater to their specific needs. They must have insurer support: improving provider payouts and maximizing the patient’s experience.
With the nation’s overall health on the line and mounting costs for health care projected to reach $6.2 trillion by 2028, the future of healthcare requires a collaborative approach which digital health is poised to facilitate.