Maria Fontanazza, Editor-in-Chief,
From The Editor's Desk

From Digital Health to ‘Digital Snake Oil’

By Maria Fontanazza
Maria Fontanazza, Editor-in-Chief,

Are digital technologies actually getting in the way of effectively treating patients?

The integration of digital technologies and medical devices has enabled both clinicians and patients to leverage data to make more informed healthcare decisions in ways previously unimaginable. While it is an exciting time for the industry, James L. Madara, M.D., executive vice president and CEO of the American Medical Association (AMA), has a clear message: Proceed with caution. At the AMA Annual Meeting over the weekend, Madara discussed digital progress in areas such as telemedicine, but he took a hard line on how digital health is concurrently hindering progress.

Many companies struggle to identify user needs. Attend the MedTech Product Development Conference to learn how to navigate the process. | September 29-30, 2016 | 3M Innovation Center | St. Paul, MN | LEARN MORE“Appearing in disguise among these positive products are other digital so-called advancements that don’t have an appropriate evidence base, or just don’t work that well—or actually impede care, confuse patients and waste our time,” said Madara in prepared remarks. “From ineffective electronic health records, to an explosion of direct-to-consumer digital health products, to apps of mixed quality. This is the digital snake oil of the early 21st century.”

With extremely powerful digital tools at our disposal, Madara stressed that these technologies should not circumvent physicians or put the healthcare responsibility solely into the hands of the patient (i.e., an allusion was made to patients ordering their own blood tests) but rather leverage physicians and their knowledge. “A more promising digital future can be envisioned that enhances the physician-patient relationship, produces better and more efficient care, and allows more time for physician-patient interactions,” said Madara.

I tend to agree. I want my doctor to look me in the eye for more than five seconds instead of staring at the computer screen, taking copious notes.  Madara even referred to a recent AMA study that cited 50% of physician time is devoted to the keyboard. I believe it.

Part of the solution in getting out of this so-called “digital dystopia”, as Madara called it, is for physicians to collaborate more with vendors, device manufacturers, and FDA. This includes communicating with manufacturers on the digital tools that doctors can actually use, not ones that further complicate their daily processes and procedures. Another route is the role of physicians in developing medical products. The AMA Innovation Challenge allows MD’s to submit their innovations to win a $50,000 prize and additional support to bring their concepts to fruition.

The healthcare industry as a whole is pressured to achieve that delicate balance between empowering consumers in their quest for more control over their own healthcare and ensuring that the physician maintains responsible involvement in the patient care process. For the companies out there developing digital health technologies, what actions are you taking to ensure that you are actually helping physicians and other healthcare professionals versus making their jobs more complicated? What challenges are you experiencing along the way?

About The Author

Maria Fontanazza, MedTech Intelligence