Digital Health: Waiting for the Human Touch That Tips the Scales

Like many aspects of our lives, the future of healthcare will inevitably have a significant digital component. But we are still waiting for the digital innovation that goes viral. Our research into digital health offers like virtual visits, online inter-hospital consulting and online second opinions found that two-thirds of patients (69%) and physicians (65%) are interested in one or more aspects of these offers.

People are also very receptive to artificial intelligence-driven apps like the Good Doctor, Sensley Virtual Nurse, AiCure and Babylon’s Health Assistant, as we outline in our whitepaper The AI Will See You Now. Healthcare in the U.S. is ripe for digital disruption.

We’re keeping our ear to the ground, listening for the distant sounds of galloping change, and we’re hearing….crickets. Exactly one year after we started tracking how patients communicate with physicians, we have seen no change. The number of patients who have communicated with their doctors through Skype or other webcam-based applications, chat/instant messenger, or through social media sites remains in single digits—the same as a year ago. Even the use of online patient portals and email remains stuck, with just one-in-three Americans using them to connect with a physician.

Clearly, no one has yet developed and sold the majority of Americans a digital health offer that delivers a clear and compelling benefit. Compliance, disease education, and effective communication all remain unmet needs, and therefore incredible opportunities for organizations that develop a compelling offer.

Unmet need + receptivity = innovation opportunity

“In an age of exponential change, we need the power of diverse thinking, and we cannot afford to leave any talent untapped,” according to Deloitte CEO Catherine Engelbert. She was writing in Time about the need to make women’s voices heard, but we think that same principle applies to both men and women when it comes to digital health. The company that listens to patients, and freely generates, tests and refines ideas will undoubtedly be among the winners in the coming world of digital health. Insight communities, whether national or global, are a perfect vehicle for tapping into the “power of diverse thinking.”

As we’ve been monitoring digital health habits and testing innovative ideas, we’ve been listening to the diverse voices of Americans through our Springboard America insight community, and we’re wondering if lingering concern about losing the human touch in health is one reason digital health has yet to take off.

“To touch can be to give life,” Michelangelo

In a recent study, we found that 78% of Americans agree that a removal of the human touch is a concern as healthcare tech advances. That mirrors findings from our work on AI and health.

In a survey, we asked: “what can healthcare companies do to make sure that care remains a personal and human experience?” One person summed it up when they said; “There has to be a balance between the use of technology, and the humanity required to ensure that patients receive the best medical care.”

This desire for the human touch in healthcare is more than metaphorical, it’s literal. “There are studies showing that touch signals safety and trust, it soothes. Basic warm touch calms cardiovascular stress” says Dacher Keltner, a professor of psychology at the University of California. He writes:

“Proper uses of touch truly have the potential to transform the practice of medicine—and they’re cost effective to boot. For example, studies show that touching patients with Alzheimer’s disease can have huge effects on getting them to relax, make emotional connections with others, and reduce their symptoms of depression.”

“Tiffany Field (a leader in the field of touch) found that massage therapy reduces pain in pregnant women and alleviates prenatal depression—in the women and their spouses alike. Research here at UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health has found that getting eye contact and a pat on the back from a doctor may boost survival rates of patients with complex diseases.”

Waiting for the touch that tips the scales

There is no doubt that digital health will transform healthcare in the U.S. The question is, who will be the first to find an approach that meets this unmet need? Americans are receptive to many of the innovative ideas we have tested. The winners in digital health will be those that tap into “the power of diverse thinking” while maintaining the human touch, literally.

To learn more about how a patient-based insight community can help your organization find the touch that tips the scales in your favor, contact us.

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