Digital Literacy in Healthcare: Challenges in adoption of e-health solutions
4 minute read
We have more and more technological innovations in healthcare, many with measurable advantages in improving medical practice efficiency, quality of care, or even health outcomes. Around the world, governments are committed to investing in such technologies to help reduce healthcare expenses and to care for an aging population.
Yet there remain a number of barriers to adopting these technologies, mainly as they aren't being implemented as widely or as effectively as possible. A compelling study in the Journal of Multidisciplinary Medicine took a closer look at this phenomenon to try to understand it better.
Advantages to be gained by adopting new technologies in health practice
Health information and communication technologies are proven to increase the effectiveness of health services and improve patient outcomes. For example, EHR technologies can reduce medication errors and improve prescription compliance. Many e-health systems have been shown to reduce hospital and urgent care visits, particularly when patients can receive individual, qualified medical advice from home.
For these reasons, governments, particularly in the US and Europe, are committed to investing in such systems and promoting their use.
Challenges in adopting new technologies in health practice
However, only 29% of primary care physicians in Europe, and only 17% in the US, are using such systems. Adoption is slow, and physicians are often reluctant to integrate new technology into their practice. The most common reasons for slow adoption are:
- Lack of compatibility with existing systems and processes. If a new technology has a widespread impact on existing systems, or is incompatible with current practices, the rate of adoption drops dramatically.
- New technologies aren't deemed necessary. Many physicians think of new technologies simply as gadgets that don't improve health outcomes. Most physicians want to see that a new device or system has been tested and proven - not just as useful, but as necessary - before they are willing to adopt it.
- New technologies are often perceived as a burden. Many new technologies, such as Electronic Health Records (EHR), require the physician to do data entry, often during a patient's visit. Most physicians are not trained to quickly and accurately complete data entry tasks, and feel that their time is best spent elsewhere. Many EHR forms do not allow physicians to skip form fields or omit details. While this aspect of digital record keeping improves the thoroughness and accuracy of capturing data, by (for example) reminding medical staff to capture allergy information or record other health indicators, it can also be time-consuming and frustrating when they feel that those details aren't relevant for the case at hand.
- New technologies may decrease the quality of patient interactions. If medical personnel are spending one-on-one patient consult time on interacting with technology and doing data entry tasks instead, they feel that it impairs the quality of the relationship and reduces their effectiveness.
- Lack of time. The workload of physicians and medical staff is steadily increasing. Even if a new technology would improve efficiency and save time in the long run, they are concerned about the time spent learning and implementing a new system. Understandably, medical staff do not want to spend time in long training classes or on long calls to tech support.
Approaches toward improving adoption of new technologies
Some of the ways that we can improve adoption of these technologies by physicians include:
- Proof of utility. As with any medical technology, doctors want to see reputable research that demonstrates real-world improved health outcomes. They also appreciate free trials, and features that directly save them time on repetitive tasks.
- Training and support. Doctors want to spend no time teaching assistants how to use the software, and want to spend no time seeking technical support. An implementation strategy that involves comprehensive training and follow up training, along with on-site, on-demand, one-on-one support would help improve adoption.
- Preserve clinical autonomy. Doctors want to have control of the conditions and content of their work, and the freedom to use their own experience and judgement. If they feel that a new software or technology threatens their autonomy, it leads to a reluctance to adopt it.
All too often, startups invent a technology and then find a way for it to be used. For an e-health solution to be effective, and to overcome these barriers to adoption, it must be designed for medical care professionals first and foremost, understanding their needs as the end user. Only then can we truly begin to benefit from the potential of the latest breakthroughs in healthcare technology.