The U.S. is not known for its healthcare accessibility. But even among patients who do have access in a traditional sense—with good health insurance and an abundance of doctors in their area—there are many who aren’t pleased with the quality of care, or who even mistrust their providers.
In a system increasingly pressed for resources, patients feel like they are being treated like a number, unable to truly advocate for their needs in appointments that last only 18 minutes on average. This shows in customer experience data, with the net promoter score of traditional healthcare providers averaging just nine out of 100 — meaning a high percentage of patients are unenthusiastic or unhappy with the current system.
Clearly patients aren’t only in need of more basic access to care—they want access to higher quality care, too. As telehealth has become a bigger part of the healthcare system, focusing on access is important, but quality of care matters, too. When digital health platforms are thoughtful, innovative, and focused on delivering quality care, they can offer a more inspiring vision for the future of healthcare.
Ongoing interactions drive better outcomes
Digital health models that thoughtfully center telehealth give patients more seamless access to their providers, which can drive better outcomes—especially when trying to find treatment for chronic conditions instead of for acute issues.
When treating ongoing health challenges, doctors are more likely to find the right treatment if they have ongoing data: Exactly what symptoms does the patient experience? When? What other factors were at play in that moment? How is the treatment working? Are there any side effects? Even if patients have access to see an in-person provider fairly regularly, they can struggle to remember and communicate all of this information in their limited appointment time. During what may be the patient’s most difficult time of life, the traditional healthcare system asks them to quarterback their own care.
The technology-driven nature of digital health platforms alleviates this: Patients can record their experience over time, and doctors can easily access a wealth of patient data to iterate on the treatment plan and create a truly tailored approach. With ongoing communication, patients easily communicate with their provider — versus rushing out to find a doctor when something comes up.
Guiding patients towards the specialists they need
Even when patients are able to track and communicate their symptoms, they may struggle to find the right doctor to meet their needs.
Many migraine patients, for instance, never even receive the correct diagnosis from their doctors, let alone a successful plan to get them out of pain. This is partially because of lack of traditional access—but it’s also because migraine patients may never know specialists are available to them.They may not know that affordable, accessible, expert-level care exists.
With digital health, we can put more power in the patients’ hands to explore different pathways of care, providing a wide network of different types of doctors alongside tools to help guide patients to the best specialists based on their symptoms. Ultimately, this means they can get the best treatments, faster.
A more integrated approach to healthcare
Ultimately, digital health allows for a more comprehensive approach to care. Having more centralized digital records can make it easier for patients to transition between multiple specialists to address different health needs—and make it easier for doctors to tailor their approach based on everything in a patient’s record.
Recognizing that 85% of healthcare spending goes to treating chronic conditions, many of which are comorbid, providers must prioritize an integrated infrastructure that centers the patient, rather than a condition, and allows them to receive care across their diagnoses. Patients need the ability to transition between different providers and modalities seamlessly, with easy access to all of their information in one place. Digital health makes this seamless transition possible. But providers must also work with patients to learn where they perceive gaps in care, and understand how to fill that gap quickly, equitably, and with a high standard of care. All of this culminates in measurable improvements to the quality of patient care — including improvements in the net promoter score of healthcare providers.
Healthcare costs are obviously an issue when it comes to access, and need to be addressed by major systemic changes. In the long run, I do believe telehealth will reduce costs by offering better preventive care and treatment for chronic conditions, preventing more expensive acute care down the road. But while we wait for the data to come in, it’s important to recognize the other benefits digital health offers, helping us meet patients where they are and provide them with excellent quality care whenever they need it. To me, that’s the real promise of digital health.
Photo: sdecoret, Getty Images