The State of Healthcare Data and Technology

August 23, 2019

How technology can improve patient and provider experiences.

A new report points to a need to educate healthcare professionals on how artificial intelligence (AI) and digital health technology can improve the overall healthcare experience and lower costs.

The Philips Future Health Index (FHI) survey explores health technology’s impact on the patient and healthcare professional experience.

The 2019 FHI found that while American healthcare professionals’ experience improves when their work is supported by digital technology, there are a variety of barriers keeping healthcare professionals from using these solutions to their full potential.

“Unlike many other countries where security and data privacy concerns keep healthcare professionals from sharing the data, lack of interoperability and access to data sharing systems are the top barriers to sharing outside their health facility,” says Joseph Frassica, MD, head of Philips Research, the Americas, and chief medical officer, Philips North America.

“Research found that digital health technologies reduce healthcare professional workload, curb healthcare professional burnout, and enhance job satisfaction; yet many American healthcare professionals are not taking full advantage of these technologies in all aspects of their work,” Frassica says.

Related: How Machine Learning Is Revolutionizing Healthcare

The report showed that the use of telehealth and AI represented the largest opportunities for improvement of quality and cost savings in healthcare. For example, as the U.S. population ages, increased adoption of telehealth tools will help deliver care to those who need it most wherever they live, giving healthcare professionals flexibility that will help with some of the challenges listed above.

“There are unique challenges beyond the healthcare professional’s control contributing to lack of adoption. When it comes to telehealth, healthcare systems and insurers are not set up to understand or bill for virtual appointments versus traditional care, and there are many restrictions on reimbursement for most types of patient visits. Artificial intelligence poses a different issue. While there are some technology solutions that currently leverage AI, 75% of healthcare data in our DHR’s is unstructured, making it difficult to access and analyze in order to create breakthrough AI solutions for healthcare.

General population

The 2019 FHI found that there is an appetite among American individuals to have access to their health data. This access can be facilitated via tracking various health metrics through digital health technologies or access to digital health records (e.g., EHRs, EMRs, etc.). This reflects a desire for convenience, more control of their health, and a greater understanding about themselves. At the same time, 62% of Americans do not share data with their healthcare professionals, indicating a need for education on the benefits of sharing data.

“Reciprocal data-sharing is not the norm in the United States, but can improve experiences,” Frassica says. “FHI research indicates that empowering Americans through technology-enabling them to better manage their own health-has the potential to improve the experience for both patients and healthcare professionals. The data also suggests that there could be greater potential for individuals’ uptake of digital health technology and mobile health apps if usage of these technologies was more frequently recommended by healthcare professionals. There is also evidence to suggest that individuals will be more likely to use digital health technology if it’s easier to share data with their healthcare professional.”

Health vs. wealth

The report revealed an interesting trend in the evolution of how Americans value their health versus their wealth. The 2017 FHI showed that 91% of Americans prioritize health over their money. Just two years later, that number decreased to 78% of Americans who would rather be healthy than wealthy.

“While a majority would still choose good health over money, that’s still a substantial shift toward financial security,” Frassica says.

In particular, 29% of millennials (aged 23 to 38 years) would rather be wealthy than healthy, or don’t know if they would rather be healthy or wealthy, versus 13% of Baby Boomers and 22% of Generation Xers, perhaps speaking to the effects of the economic climate of the past few years. 

The benefit to health execs

“Technologies like AI and telehealth can help healthcare executives achieve the Quadruple Aim-better patient and staff experiences, lower costs, and improved outcomes-while also helping to address other challenges for health systems,” Frassica says.

There are several ways the healthcare community can address the educational challenge, according to Frassica:

  • Technology vendors and healthcare providers must continue to forge true partnerships to activate a deep understanding of a health system’s challenges and the types of solutions that can best improve patient outcomes and financial metrics.

  • Share best practices and learnings among health systems to understand the challenges and benefits of adopting digital solutions that will help others find a path forward.

  • Address misconceptions around digital technologies such as AI and telehealth. For example, although 37% of individuals surveyed associate AI with less human interaction, AI-based tools may actually help a healthcare professional spend less time looking for data and more time getting to the right diagnosis and treatment. This, in turn, allows for more time and positive interaction with the patient.

The FHI report revealed that many individuals in the U.S. (58%) had not seen a healthcare professional when they had a medical reason to do so, often due to lack of time, difficulty in scheduling an appointment, availability of a specialist or care provider in their area, and more.

“These are issues that telehealth and AI in particular can substantially improve and even solve,” Frassica says. “And while barriers still exist that are slowing wide-scale adoption in the U.S., healthcare executives need to understand the effect these delays will have for patients and their care providers related to better access, costs, and availability of and satisfaction with healthcare.

“Finally, removing the remaining barriers to health technology use has the potential to reduce workload, curb healthcare professional burnout and enhance their work lives,” he says.

A 2018 Ipsos

looked at AI adoption across a range of business sectors. In workplaces that use AI-powered tools, more than two-thirds of the employees surveyed say the tools have already had a positive impact on their efficiency (75% cite improvements in their effectiveness, 75% in their results, and 74% in how their work is structured).

Philips’ 4th annual Future Health Index (FHI) is based on a survey of over 15,000 individuals and more than 3,100 healthcare professionals in 15 countries (Australia, Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Netherlands, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, Poland, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America). The meaning of this survey is to explore health technology’s impact on the patient and healthcare professional experience.