There is no shortage of digital health offerings in the market promising to enhance patient care and achieve aspects of the quadruple aim of enhancing the patient experience, improving population health, reducing costs, and improving the work life of health care providers. They include apps, devices, augmented intelligence, and data analytics. However, it is unclear how many of these options solve the right problems based on actual user needs.
Because the digital health ecosystem is growing and evolving so rapidly, it has become difficult for physicians, patients, and health system administrators to navigate potential solutions that can address multifaceted problems, as well as meet requirements for privacy, security, clinical efficacy, usability, and interoperability. To help address this problem, the American Medical Association created its Physician Innovation Network (PIN), which connects physicians, residents, and medical students to health technology companies and entrepreneurs. Through research and talking with physicians active on the platform, the AMA has gathered some best practices for engaging physicians, residents, and medical students in health care innovation. Below are some thoughts based on our interactions with physicians and innovators involved in PIN.
Engage early and often. It is critical for digital health companies to involve physicians (and patients) early in the development of their products to help articulate how they should function, touch a patient’s life, and integrate into clinical practice.
The AMA, in collaboration with Sling Health, has created a Clinical Problem Database on PIN to provide physicians with a place to share unmet needs in health care delivery and clinical medicine, as well as enlighten the community to solutions that already exist in an effort to avoid duplication for similar problems.
AMA research shows that physicians want to be involved in decisions around new technology solutions. That includes design, development, and the provider organizations’ selection and implementation. Digital health solutions designed and developed with physician input early and often can avoid missteps driven by a lack of understanding of how the clinical environment works. Physicians also know their patients and can help startups understand how their products may impact patient care and engagement.
Health systems also can benefit from engaging their physicians early and often in the process of implementing a new tool or innovative solution. Decisions made at the top and pushed down to physicians and care teams often encounter resistance and a lack of enthusiasm and support. Having the right people at the table upfront can help organizations anticipate such barriers, facilitate buy-in, and minimize disruption to workflows.
Obtain diverse perspectives. While the views of a chief medical officer of a health system or a family friend who happens to be a physician may be useful, it’s not enough to truly ensure a product or solution meets the mark. To obtain valuable insights into how a product or solution will work once it’s introduced into the real world of patient care, digital health companies and health systems need the input of physicians with different backgrounds and in different specialties who collectively treat diverse patient populations. Getting multiple perspectives can help answer key questions about potential applications such as how broadly it could be employed, how it may fit into a workflow, and what patient populations might be best served.
Be respectful of time and expertise. When physicians provide their expertise and time, often they are sacrificing time with their patients — something companies should keep in mind when engaging with them. We have found that some of the most successful interactions occur when there are aligned expectations around the problem to be solved, appropriate compensation, and communication. If you schedule time with a physician to get input, stick to it. If you have the funding to compensate physicians for their time and expertise, do it. And finally, whether seeking volunteer or compensated input from physicians, companies should consider showing appreciation for their engagement by sharing progress and the impact the physician’s time and expertise had on the product and/or implementation of a new solution.
At the end of the day, if a digital health tool isn’t helping achieve the quadruple aim, it isn’t solving the right problem. The best way for digital health companies and health systems to ensure that it is and can be implemented effectively, is to deeply involve physicians and patients.
Michael Hodgkins, MD, is the chief medical information officer of the American Medical Association.
Meg Barron is vice president of digital health strategy at the American Medical Association.
Stacy Lloyd is senior manager of digital health strategy at the American Medical Association.
This article originally appeared on HBR.org and is being brought to you by Medtronic.