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Moving beyond fax machines: Why medical practices need to respond to surging demand for digital healthcare

Patients are consumers.

And living in an increasingly digital-first, app-centric, on-demand world, they expect healthcare experiences to evolve accordingly. 

But at both a system level, and within many private medical practices and clinics, the industry hasn’t yet embraced the digital transformation required to meet these expectations. 

The disconnect between patient needs and the healthcare system will only intensify as more digital natives come of age and technology becomes ever-more embedded in our lives, says Vince O’Gorman, CEO of Vog App Developers.

So what’s stopping medical practitioners from embracing digital healthcare?

“The issues in healthcare are cultural,” says O’Gorman. “The problems come from an old-school mentality that assumes that fax is the only secure way to transfer documents and patient records belong to clinics instead of patients, amongst many other issues.”

O’Gorman is one of several technical experts who say the industry must become more efficient, or it could ultimately topple under its own weight.

From digital communication to telehealth services, here’s what patients want

Canadians are already feeling the brunt of an inefficient healthcare system pushed to the brink by the pandemic and struggles to modernize.

In fact, 40% of Canadians were unable to access essential health-care services in the last six months, according to a recent poll. The survey also revealed that Canadians have less confidence in the healthcare system than Americans have in theirs. 

Doctors and medical providers who adapt to consumer demands for digital healthcare experiences will likely thrive in the future. Those who don’t, however, will struggle to meet patient expectations and face increasing pressure to change or lose out to competitors who invest in technology to streamline their clinics.

Case in point: In a recent survey, 80% of people said they prefer to use digital communications with their healthcare providers at least some of the time, and 44% want to communicate digitally all of the time. 

To underscore the point: That is nearly half of all respondents saying they want digital communication as the new norm.

The pandemic forced a change in patient-doctor protocol, leading to a 338% increase in consumers’ use of telehealth services. The habits formed over these two years have fundamentally changed what people want and expect from their healthcare providers.

Another important finding from this survey: Younger and more affluent consumers have a lower tolerance for inconsistent or bad digital experiences in healthcare. These generations are less likely to even know what a fax machine is, let alone accept the fact it’s the standard protocol for how the industry shares information.

Fortunately for healthcare practitioners the path to a successful future is clear. 

And while no single provider can digitally transform the entire healthcare system, they do have the ability to change how their individual organization delivers services.

“Embracing e-health practices, improving workflows, and driving efficiency inside organizations are critical,” says O’Gorman. “Working more effectively with partner healthcare providers will also improve patient care. Over time, all these little pieces will chip away at outdated and inefficient elements of the larger system and produce positive changes for patients.”

Digital transformation approaches that any medical practice can — and should — implement

There are many different ways that healthcare providers can enhance patient experiences and improve service delivery. And they can be implemented on their own or simultaneously. O’Gorman points out a few immediate steps healthcare providers can take to digitize:

  • Enabling digital appointment scheduling so it’s easier for patients to book or cancel appointments – and for doctors to do the same.
  • Storing records (X-rays, ultrasounds, etc.) digitally so they can be accessed by patients and other healthcare providers who need them to provide care.
  • Offering telehealth services via secure digital apps.
  • Requesting patient prescriptions digitally rather than handing them a written script.
  • Communicating with patients through digital apps rather than phone calls.

“The layer missing from our national and provincial conversations about the industry is the technical one,” explains O’Gorman. “All we hear about is burned-out healthcare workers and staff shortages. Digitally transforming our healthcare system will be necessary to avert its collapse. And when it’s transformed, patients also get better experiences and better outcomes.

Vog works with doctors and medical practices to do exactly that. For instance, we recently built an on-demand laboratory services app that improves the experience for not just patients but labs as well.

“The app enables healthcare to happen in the patient’s home,” says O’Gorman. “Going to a lab is typically a painful process. You have to be there at a time that’s often inconvenient, you end up stuck waiting in these horribly uncomfortable chairs, and you have to commute there and back. It’s stressful and it’s a waste of time.”

As a technology-based alternative to that process, Vog built an app that enables the lab to come to the patient’s house by creating a digital connection between the two. 

“It’s more convenient and less stressful for the patient to be at home, and it reduces pressure on the physical lab,” he says. “And it helps older, sicker, and mobility-challenged people get the medical care they need.”

O’Gorman says digital transformation of the healthcare sector will be characterized by projects like these that enable better care without the overhead and inefficiency of outdated systems.

“We must build technologies that allow people to interact with healthcare away from the healthcare environment, which means away from hospitals and clinics. If we can break that old model and deliver more services and experiences on-demand, we’ll be able to make better use of the resources we do have in our healthcare system.”

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