The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in at least 25 million cases worldwide with a continued spread in the United States, causing global disruption in every sector of society and forcing adaptation to a new normal relying increasingly on technology. Even in the medical field, where there is a pervasive and persistent traditionalist approach to technology adoption, many of the barriers have been overcome. When we reflect back on this life-changing pandemic, we will see how it accelerated advancements in medical practice and education.
In 2014, resistance to change and innovation was evidenced by the uproar during the mandated transition to electronic health records. Even in telemedicine, introduced in an early form in the 1950s, only 42 percent of hospitals and 15 percent of family physicians were utilizing telehealth as of 2018. Supported in part by major changes to the reimbursement structure of telehealth, adoption drastically changed with the COVID-19 pandemic. In response to the pandemic, frontline emergency and intensive care units across the world implemented surge responses concurrent with a massive reduction in outpatient clinic visits and elective surgeries. Patient access dropped dramatically, and health systems quickly responded with new technologies, both to provide better access to care and to dampen the financial shortfall. Many of the previous barriers dissolved practically overnight, resulting in the exponential growth of virtual health visits and telemedicine, necessitating individuals, health care organizations, and medical societies to rapidly adapt and become more digitally literate. This forced adoption is a wake-up call for the industry to realize the potential that advanced technologies hold both in reaching patients and ensuring the education of health care professionals remains current.
Despite the tendency for slow adoption, in recent years, we have seen an explosion of innovation in the health care space, but utilization has been limited to a select few. Examples include artificial intelligence analyzing big data and decision support tools at the point of care; robot-assisted surgery; and augmented and virtual reality for practicing complex surgeries on individualized, digital patients, then performing the surgery with patient data overlaid in real-time to create the digital operating room of the future. We have a world of digital therapeutics, including virtual reality used for pain management and the FDA approval of a video game to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). These examples of technology in health care are poised to greatly improve health outcomes, but are still only utilized by a small fraction of the health care community that continues to fight adoption of new technologies, often due to lack of familiarity or comfort with the new platforms, lack of access to technology resources, and perceived costs.
By Eric Gantwerker | KevinMD
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