Blog Post

Healthcare Upside/Down: Getting Digital Health Design Right

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ECG’s radio show and podcast, Healthcare Upside Down, offers unfiltered perspectives on what’s working in US healthcare and what’s not. Hosted by ECG principal Dr. Nick van Terheyden, each episode features guest panelists who explore the upsides and downsides of healthcare in the US—and how to make the system work for everyone.

For all the excitement, interest, and investment in digital health, is it really helping to solve our healthcare problems? Data shows that patients are interacting with digital health platforms in greater numbers than ever before. But digitizing activity can’t completely solve the lack of available resources. There are still only 24 hours in any day, and some programs have generated an increased workload for an already stretched staff.

Our guest on episode 26 of Healthcare Upside Down is Ravi Patel, MD, Vice President of Digital Health at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago.

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According to Dr. Ravi Patel of Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital, digital health is still evolving, and balancing the technical aspects with the human element continues to be a challenge. But he insists that engagement is the key to keeping providers happy and patients healthy as they navigate a rapidly expanding digital world. Importantly, the providers who will be deploying these solutions need to be involved in their design. Taking their experience, concerns, and expertise into account at the outset of digital health design can help ensure their buy-in.

On episode 26 of Healthcare Upside Down, Dr. Patel talks about getting digital health design right. Here are a few excerpts.

Striking the right balance with digital health.

“We have to be able to balance the yield and the opportunity gained from digital health against some of the innovation, and be able to prioritize some of that innovation where there actually is a lot of opportunity. Right now you’ve got the side that is all around utility. It’s about how to actually get patients using digital tools to be able to facilitate care. And then you’ve got the extreme innovation side where you’ve got everything that wants to be driven by AI, advanced algorithms, advanced analytics, etc. And a balance of the two is really necessary to be able to make digital health work.”

Digital health should mitigate burnout—not cause it.

“I think one of the hard parts in digital health is that engagement with our care teams is heavily dependent on direct work by those care teams. Right now, you may have more and more patients getting onto a platform. At Lurie Children’s, for example, in the last two years we have gone from a 27% engagement rate on our patient portal to 69%. What that’s also driven is almost a quadrupling in patient messages that have come through. Those patient messages have to be handled by our care teams. All of that is uncompensated care. At the end of the day, those providers are handling these messages, some of which are brand new complaints that would have otherwise been an in-person visit or a telemedicine visit. And how do you balance the two? We want to make sure we’re providing optimal care, but we also have to do it sustainably for these care providers so that it’s not leading to further burnout.”

Keeping healthcare delivery teams—and patients—engaged.

“We’ve invested a lot on AI development and advanced analytics, and we haven’t brought our care teams with us. They haven’t been as engaged as we want them to be; they’ve often been an afterthought. We haven’t necessarily taken the people who are going to be using this and taking their experiences into account. You have to bring your stakeholders along with you to get them engaged.

“On the patient side, we’ve got to do a better job. Our attention span as a population is shortening. Especially when you think about our pediatric population, we have to figure out how to appropriately gamify or make [digital health] more parallel to our social media experiences. So that it’s frequent touches in short spurts that allow the right engagement, but in a way that is encouraging to our patient population.”

Dr. Patel talks more about ways to ensure the clinical team’s participation in the design process.

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