The digital transformation is changing how providers deliver care, bringing with it a novel set of challenges from this new way of working. To ensure long-term success in providing users with high-quality care, digital health companies must design solutions that take not just the consumer experience, but also the provider perspective, into account.
We are witnessing a sea change in healthcare delivery, driven by digital health innovation across offerings such as telemedicine, remote monitoring solutions, and app-based healthcare tools. Care has transitioned beyond the four-walls of a hospital, enabling providers to cater to more consumers innovatively and effectively. Consumers are benefiting from more affordable, easily accessible, and timely care, causing demand for digital health solutions to escalate, with adoption rates of telemedicine reaching as high as 80% in 2022.
The surge in demand has attracted unconventional players like tech giants and retailers to the healthcare main stage. For instance, CVS’s acquisition of Signify Health and Amazon’s purchase of One Medical underscore the momentum for alternative care delivery models and the pivotal role non-traditional companies will play in healthcare moving forward. With the entrance and growth of digital health companies, we have started to see a dramatic shift in the provider landscape over the last 5 years, not just in diversity of offerings, but of the players themselves. This transformation, however, brings with it key questions about how providers can continue to deliver high-quality care in a virtual setting, and how companies can effectively recruit and retain top talent for this new modality of care delivery. For digital health, the race to successfully acquire, retain, and support provider supply is more heated than ever.
Challenges arising from the digital health transformation
- Recruitment in the face of staff shortages
The challenges of the provider supply shortage are nothing new. With 1 in 5 Americans expected to be over the age of 65 by 2030, the pressure on our healthcare providers will only continue to grow. By 2034, there could be a shortage of up to 124,000 physicians. There is a dire need to expand supply and digital health companies provide an opportunistic way to deliver more care. However, convincing healthcare professionals to transition from traditional brick and mortar practices to digital modalities comes with its own set of challenges.
My colleague, David Schonthal, refers to the headwinds oppose change as “Frictions”. As David highlights in his book, The Human Element, Frictions are our natural human instincts and behaviors that cause us to resist change – no matter how beneficial making the change might be. Unless these Frictions are removed, the changes healthcare innovators are looking to introduce to the market will likely be rejected by the very people they are designed to help.
For example, many clinicians harbor concerns about digital solution efficacy, potential legal issues, privacy, security, and reimbursement. Unless these concerns are addressed as part of the introduction of new technologies , adoption will fail.
To overcome these Frictions, some virtual-first companies are offering unique solutions. For instance, NOCD, a telehealth platform designed to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and other comorbid severe mental illnesses, simplifies the transition for providers by managing compliance, billing, and scheduling and providing mentorship for challenging cases.
Driven by the absence of work-life boundaries in a remote environment, work-related burnout escalated during the pandemic, with 53% of remote workers clocking more hours than before and 61% struggling to disconnect after hours. While most of our nation’s healthcare workers never left the frontlines, the pandemic’s transformation of the workplace had its impact on the sector. Amid the digital health transformation, and with the surge of telemedicine utilization, the excessive, and often unsustainable, workload healthcare professionals face has quickly become a major challenge. While virtual care has led to an increase in engagement for patients, there has not been a similar increase in the support team necessary to handle the increased workflow. Virtual clinicians grapple with video fatigue, mounting asynchronous chat, and elongated workdays, risking burnout and a decline in care quality. Overburdened physicians might even hasten retirement, further contributing to the provider shortage.
To counter this, digital health companies are that help clinician’s triage important messages using technology can enable providers to get to the right patient, at the right time. Arcadia Health developed AI-powered analytics tools to stratify high-risk patients and generate actionable insights so providers can prioritize urgent cases and operate at the top of their license. In addition, companies like Brightline, focused on addressing the country’s growing pediatric mental health crisis, lets therapists set availability windows for users to choose, respecting work-life balance.
Reducing administrative burdens
In a similar vein of needing to manage the burdens placed on staff, the time spent on administrative tasks, especially documentation, is a notable concern. Following national care guidelines, a primary care physician would need 26.7 hours a day to see a standard patient count, including 3 hours for documentation alone. A recent survey conducted by athenahealth found that excessive documentation causes burnout for 57% of clinicians. Each year, these administrative burdens accumulate into a $1 trillion cost in the US alone.. Although designed to simplify clerical processes, electronic health records (EHRs) have become time-consuming, with physicians spending over 16 minutes per patient. As telemedicine grows, so does time spent on EHRs and out-of-hours work, creating an issue digital health providers must address. The link between increased administrative tasks, burnout, and decreased care quality warrants the need for more efficient platforms.
To combat these challenges, the adoption of intelligent automation and consistent feedback about clinicians’ workflows is vital. There’s a growing trend towards asynchronous chat solutions, as seen with companies like Summer Health, which allow for more flexible and efficient care. Additionally, to better support EHR processes, companies such as Jasper Health, a digital oncology platform that delivers psychosocial support and coaching, not only integrates with these platforms but also proactively leverage user data to provide health insights and connect users to non-clinical services.
- Building community
Another key challenge as digital health solutions proliferate is the ability to retain employees. A core driver of this is ensuring that providers feel they have a sense of community amongst one another and the consumers they support. Healthcare professionals gain immense satisfaction personally connecting with patients so the willingness of a company to invest in these relationships is crucial. Beyond patient relationships, if uninvested, physicians may feel isolated from the larger healthcare community and miss out on professional growth opportunities, dampening their motivation.
According to an American Psychological Association (APA) survey, employees who feel valued at work show better performance and well-being. A staggering 93% of those who felt valued reported being motivated to perform at their best, compared to 33% for those who didn’t feel valued. Hence, fostering a sense of community and recognizing providers’ contributions are pivotal. Companies like Caraway, a digital healthcare company providing mental, physical, and reproductive care to women aged 18-27, describes how its “Caraway Crew” is its secret sauce to making on-campus engagement work, succeeding as student crew members are empowered to co-create and lead events while building a community.
- Training a digitally ready workforce
Poor training and workflow optimization is another common culprit of physician disengagement with digital health solutions in most states. Educating providers is critical while transitioning into digital modalities to ensure care quality is not compromised. Such training needs to consider security concerns and how physicians should safeguard patient data, rapidly evolving regulatory compliance, and technical training for different software and interfaces providers may be required to use. Incomplete and irregular training will only increase physician frustration and skepticism of digital health solutions. After all, embracing digitalization isn’t just about upgrading systems; it’s about preserving the core of health and care.
But here’s the silver lining: some trailblazers are lighting the path forward. Parsley Health, providing root-cause resolution care, meaningfully invests in training its clinicians — every Parsley doctor completes their Parsley Fellowship in functional medicine and nutrition. The fellowship looks at holistic approaches to medicine with a focus on digestive diseases, autoimmune diseases, cardiometabolic diseases, and endocrine disorders and aligns providers on the same standards of care while equipping them with a new care toolkit. Providers are taught how to support consumers through their longitudinal health journey and meet patients where they are.
As we stand at the crossroads of healthcare’s future, it’s crystal clear: the companies that thrive will be those that treasure both the patient experience and the invaluable perspectives of their providers. Investing in Friction-reducing tactics such as community building and providing benefits, training, and personalized support to employees will yield compounding long-term benefits while reducing churn rate. As we transition from the comforting embrace of traditional care settings into the dynamic digital horizon, let’s remember to bring along each caregiver and provider making their debut in this new age of healing.
Editor’s Note: NOCD, Brightline, Jasper, Caraway are portfolio companies of 7Wire Ventures, the author’s employer.
Photo: marchmeena29, Getty Images