Understanding the role Digital Health can play in healthcare
At the beginning of the year, Wavelength International, Ccentric Group and Creative Careers in Medicine partnered up to carry out a first of its kind research about the ‘Changing face of clinical careers’. The aim of the research was to provide a glimpse into the future of healthcare, while also gauging the skills and interests of the current workforce.
A growing interest in Digital health
Globally and in Australia, healthcare is evolving, driven by an ageing population, technological developments, increasingly complex care models, consumer expectations, geographical challenges, and pressures of financial sustainability. Alongside this change, the role of healthcare professionals is also drastically changing. Nowadays, clinicians face the challenge of not only being experts in their own clinical fields but are now expected to demonstrate skills in areas such as healthcare policy, digital health, communication and health economics to name a few.
As such, there is an increasing interest from doctors to get more out of their current career as well as exploring the non-clinical aspects of healthcare roles. Drivers and inspirations behind this trend include the need for variety and diversity, a desire for greater flexibility and work/life balance, however, there was also more sombre reasons such as burnout and frustration. “One of the findings that jumped out for me is the reasons people gave for investigating divergent careers. There are a bunch of positive indicators: ’I’d like some variety, I’m passionate about it, I’m already doing it’, but then there was also the negative side: ‘I’m burnt out, I’m dissatisfied.’ That was really telling. The reason doctors get into medicine can be different from the experience of what it means to work in the practice of medicine.” - Dr. Louise Schaper – CEO Australasian Institute of Digital health.
According to our research of over 850 clinicians, 72% of doctors would consider a divergent career in medicine at some point in their career.
Interestingly, one area of interest that really stood out amongst clinicians was digital health with 42% of doctors indicating an interest in some form of digital health. For the purposes of our research, digital health also includes categories such as “AI/machine learning”, “Health informatics”, “Data Analytics” and “Telemedicine”. Out of the cohort of doctors interested in digital health, only 15% of clinicians stated having expertise in this area, highlighting a big gap between interest and skills.
Although there is a growing interest in digital health, there is a lot that needs to be done before this transformation can be realised. It is interesting that, despite developments in Digital Health, self-identified expertise was still low even among the more junior staff, an indication perhaps that curricula have not yet evolved to incorporate Digital Health and health technology.
How can Universities and Medical schools reduce the skills gap in Digital Health
The above statistic provides a clear illustration of the need to build clinicians capabilities and expertise in digital health, as well as redesigning training programs to incorporate these skills.
“The large gap between digital health interest and expertise is not surprising - the healthcare sector is not resourced to support digital health.To equip medical students to become the leaders, innovators and forward thinkers of healthcare, it is essential to integrate digital health content in curriculum and not just add it as a separate topic. It is very competitive to do so but the demand from medical students is there and any University who successfully integrates digital health into their curriculum will have a considerable competitive advantage.” - Dr. Louise Schaper – CEO Australasian Institute of Digital health.
The big question is, how can universities and hospital training programs adapt to support the development of clinicians in digital health? There is a need for universities to update curricula to encompass these new skills needed further down the line and consideration by hospitals needs to be given to upskill the current workforce, as well as developing new roles with a specific focus on digital health. However, there should be a focus on how to intertwine technology with the human skills needed to ensure they are effective and optimise the delivery of exceptional healthcare.
Historically, these institutions had one purpose and that was to prepare doctors up until completion of their internship, with little interest as to what happens beyond this point. With this type of framework in place, newly qualified doctors are not prepared for what is expected of them when they begin to work. “There needs to be more understanding of the other areas of work that interest doctors outside of traditional medicine.” - Dr Grant Phelps, Director of Rural Workforce Agency Victoria & Associate Professor of Clinical Leadership, Deakin University. When these changes are made, only then can the healthcare sector evolve and cater for these new opportunities.
“Digital health is going to be something that doctors are going to need to use regardless if they want to or not. Therefore, we need to be upskilled and trained in these areas.” - Dr Ashe Coxon, General Practitioner, Career Counsellor and Founder of Medical Career Planning
What role does Digital Health play in the future of healthcare
The possibilities that these new technologies are creating are almost infinite and there is no denying the benefits that digital health offers the healthcare sector. The concept of ‘value’ in healthcare is taking on new meaning, driven by patient expectation and ‘outcomes that matter’ rather than volume and cost.
Digital Health has the potential to transform healthcare design, delivery and experience, use of real-time data and the potential to truly engage patients and consumers as advocates in their own healthcare.
“A real-life example would be from when I was working on the Gold Coast. We delivered an integrated electronic medical record system.The pharmacists got together and saw a possibility to utilise real-time information. We could see what doctors were prescribing on the wards and quickly worked out that an algorithm could be developed to send a real-time alert to pharmacists working on the ward if there is a potential medication dispensing error about to happen, due to some combination of drugs that may have been incorrectly dispensed or diagnosed. Therefore, pharmacists on the ward were able to intervene in real-time and prevent a medication error from occurring.” - Damian Green, CEO of eHealth Queensland & Chief Information Officer Queensland Health
Telemedicine also represents a sector-wide opportunity providing access to health care from virtually anywhere and playing a major role in reducing geographic maldistribution across Australia. Telehealth will also help address the high level of preference from clinicians for working remotely, as highlighted in our research. This became very clear in July 2020, when According to an AMA survey - physicians using telehealth has doubled since 2016, with nearly 30% of doctors adopting some form of digital health technology. The Australian Department of Health also reported that more than 4.3 million telehealth services had been delivered to more than 3 million patients through telehealth items introduced to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
This rapid increase in the use of telehealth not only shows how effective it can be, but it also plays a part in reducing the risk of transmission as millions of consultations now move online. As patients and doctors have become more familiar with the use of technology in 2020, we can expect this to stick around for the foreseeable future. More specific skills such as AI/machine learning will be of particular interest to certain disciplines, for example those working in surgery and diagnostic roles.
The future of healthcare will be about using technology to provide predictive, proactive treatment that is ‘patient centred” with “consumer empowerment, convenience, and timeliness” being at the heart of everything. - Dr Simon Kos, Chief Executive Officer at Next Practice & Former CMO at Microsoft
By implementing the right tools, technology and strategy, costs can be reduced, efficiency increased, and patient wellbeing improved. All the while building a system that is mutually beneficial to all stakeholders involved.
What attributes are needed for clinicians to be successful in Digital Health?
Pursuing a career in digital health or just even incorporating it into an existing role can be daunting since it is still a relatively new arena. However, as digital continues to transform the healthcare sector and new roles are created, we need to review what is considered desirable when hiring for divergent careers. So, what are some of the attributes of clinicians who have successfully transitioned into the digital space?
A “common passion – not only in digital health but an underlying passion and ability to see past the way things are currently done and into how they could be done better. A passion for better patient and healthcare system outcomes – do things digitally, share data digitally with patients, hospitals, clinicians etc.” - Dr. Louise Schaper – CEO Australasian Institute of Digital health.
There is no special formula that will guarantee you are successful. However, by staying “optimistic”, “resilient” and having the “ability to motivate yourself”, you won’t go to far wrong. - Damian Green, CEO of eHealth Queensland & Chief Information Officer Queensland Health
It is also important to remember that doctors who work in digital health are mostly valued for their domain expertise in healthcare and only need a cursory familiarity with some of that technical expertise. They often provide guidance, review business processes and user acceptance criteria, or lead sales efforts or change management.
“You necessarily have to do what I did and what others do, which is to understand yourself well enough to recognise the gap in your knowledge and then find a way to fill that gap.” – Dr Grant Phelps, Director of Rural Workforce Agency Victoria & Associate Professor of Clinical Leadership, Deakin University.
Interested in exploring a divergent career in digital health?
We have regular discussions with digital health leaders and healthcare innovators about what the future might hold and what roles clinicians will play.
To learn more about digital health job opportunities or to identify training courses within the medical technology and innovation sector, please get in touch with Carole today. If you would like to learn more about our recent research, download your FREE copy here.