Study Examines How Technology Can Improve the Experience of Patients and Providers

The digitization of medical care can help physicians individualize patient care and improve medical practice, according to a paper published Sept. 21 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. The paper is the first in a new “Technology Corner” series that will publish in the journal.

The authors, Steven R. Steinhubl, MD, FACC, and Eric J. Topol, MD, FACC, examine the ways in which embracing technology can improve medical care for both physicians and patients. Their goal was to determine where digitization, or “the process of changing data into a digital form that can be easily read and processed by a computer,” can have the greatest impact on medicine and to envision what that could mean for patients and physicians. They note that advances in technology have the ability to not only create a more personalized and individualized experience but also to help lower health care costs, improve patient outcomes and create greater physician satisfaction.

Electronic health records best exemplify the current digitization of health care, they explain. However, there are many opportunities for greater digitization in the future ranging from technology that can help physicians to better use genetic data to wearable technology that tracks health status. Mobile technology also offers ways to measure blood pressure or take an electrocardiogram with a smart phone. They add that these devices will become more common in the future and help to individualize therapies for patients.

Steinhubl and Topol note that another way digitization can improve the care provided by physicians is to help them stay up to date on the latest data and research. Physicians have demanding schedules with little time to stay on top of the new literature that is constantly being published, which can lead to a lengthy delay between a trial and the changes to clinical practice. Having access to technology that allows physicians to quickly reference the most up-to-date research will allow for more “evidence-based, error-free and intellectually satisfying” interactions between physicians and patients. Digitization can also provide physicians with answers they may have regarding the best treatment options for their patients. 

While there are fears that technology may damage the patient-physician relationship, Steinhubl and Topol argue that it will actually strengthen it. “When care is bolstered by digital technologies that better individualize diagnostics and treatments, simplify real-world monitoring, and provide evidence-based guidance at the point of need, then much of what physicians currently spend their time doing can be handled through automated systems or by others in the care team, maintaining the physician’s time to serve primarily as a diagnostician and educator,” they write. “Furthermore, the increased reliance on patient-generated data, with direct feedback to the patient, will lead to marked increases in engagement.”

Download the audio commentary by JACC Editor-in-Chief Valentin Fuster, MD, PhD, MACC.

Keywords: Blood Pressure, Cellular Phone, Electrocardiography, Electronic Health Records, Health Care Costs, Medicine, Patient Care

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