What Would Make Every Doctor Use Digital Health?

Here on The Medical Futurist site we often show snippets of the future we imagine for healthcare. In this vision that we often dub as a utopia, we envision healthcare to be invisible, seamless and preventive. COVID-19 brought us much closer to what we had foreseen (from telemed solutions and robots to AI), and these changes also made doctors feel the need to change. But, of course, it’s not as easy as that.

Digital health is really quite simple: it’s healthcare through technology for both patients and medical professionals. Simplified as it can so be, it actually covers a growing field of science from wearables to patient data, robots and genomics. As we put it in a peer-reviewed paperback in 2017, “under the term ‘digital health’, advanced medical technologies, disruptive innovations and digital communication have gradually become inseparable from providing best practice healthcare.” To be able to catch up with technological advancements, the structure of healthcare must change. It’s an entire cultural and physical transformation of the whole healthcare sector. (Click to see our infographic on the future of healthcare.) But you knew that already.

The AMA Report

The American Medical Association first conducted a study on physicians’ motivations and expectations for the adaptation of digital clinical tools in 2016, then repeated it in 2019 and 2022.

Results of the third, 2022 study show that a growing number of doctors see a definite advantage in the use of digital tools, adoption of such tools has grown significantly among all physicians regardless of gender, specialty or age.

On the other hand, this enthusiasm is quite “unevenly distributed”. While enthusiasm for virtual visits has increased significantly in the past three years, it remained mostly stagnant in other digital solutions (like remote monitoring and management, clinical decision support, patient engagement and so on).

I think it is safe to conclude that these results reflect the after-effects of the pandemic: COVID-19 has forced practices to implement telehealth solutions, and doctors learned the benefits of remote care during this forced adoption period.

By 2022, some 93% of physicians claimed they see some (49%) or definitive (44%) advantage in digital health tools. This shows steady growth from survey to survey, it was 85% in 2016 and 87% in pre-pandemic 2019.

Reasons for enthusiasm have also changed, partially due to new answer options that had been added to the survey. Most physicians listed “improved clinical outcomes” and “improved work efficiency” as top motivators, 88% of doctors listed these two as very/somewhat important.  

The shortest definition of telemedicine, ever.


But patients are also not just standing there waiting on the sidelines. They started to get matters into their own hands. One of the most striking examples of how participatory activism can be successful came from the diabetes community. It was the first that organised itself at the beginning of this digital transformation. They started developing platforms, apps, and other on- and offline solutions and gathered under the #wearenotwaiting flag. Others were keen to follow, and today pioneers like ePatient Dave or Lucien Engelen are leading the patient movement.

After patients became active participants in their cure, companies, too, realised they need to act upon this. Digital health solutions (wearables, artificial organs, medical tricorders and many, many more from science fiction to science) started gaining momentum – and funding. And as patients couldn’t wait, companies didn’t, either. 

Infographic on the development of key trends and innovations in the process of delivering care

Even regulators followed the flow. The US Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was signed into law as early as in 1996. This established the policies and procedures for privacy and security regarding personal health data. And the first device, a non-invasive, automatic glucose monitoring system, the GlukoWatch was approved by the FDA in 2001.

Barriers To The Digital Switchover In Healthcare

Doctors’ work dramatically changed by the end of the 20th century. Medical professionals now spend way too much time with paperwork. And on crap electronic interfaces. In comparison, they have way too little time for the patient. But all the responsibility is theirs. These aren’t the working conditions one dreams about.

And there’s more. Fundamentally, no technological innovation is made just for them. Or if it is, it is expensive, difficult to implement (like AR), and hard to use. And even if the concept is good, only a handful of skilled and well-funded doctors would have the chance of using them. (At TMF we strongly believe in these technologies though. That’s why we collected an entire set of possibilities with AR in this article and introduced use cases of extended reality in this one.)

So what’s really needed for doctors to hop on?

What is interesting is how the same AMA report would look like if conducted in 2025. Despite the rise of remote care solutions, doctors, in some ways, have missed the connection. But it wasn’t their fault. They have, for example, never been prepared to get on at all.

It’s important to note the obstacles doctors face when considering the application or the use of digital tools. Firstly (and most importantly), they were not prepared for this. There are only a handful of courses around the whole world that aim at getting medical personnel ready for digital change. And this includes my own two courses on the subject.

Medical Education of the 21st Century

Our Top Incentive Options

Based on the study results, the AMA recognised the expressed need for support and has set up a set of key steps and best practices for physicians on their website. However, besides a support system, there are other incentives that can, will and should support the digital shift in healthcare. Here are our five cents on the subject.

1. Learn From Empowered Patients

We believe that patient empowerment, the spread of digital health, the digital approach, and the fact that digital medicine ceased to be a faraway concept lead to a new role for physicians. Thereby the job will be just as well more rewarding as more creative and physicians would have the chance to practice the art of medicine like never before. It’s easier in fields where the relationship is close, like in primary care.

What’s needed to achieve this?
Real-world examples and partnership. The experiences of digital doctors (like my own GP, Dr. Réka Vernes or Bryan Vartabedian) set a great example for others. Good cooperation between doctors and patients where e-patients don’t demand but assist the transition. 

2. Government Incentives Through Healthcare Policies

Direct support from governments is incredibly important in taking healthcare to the 21st century. Take a look at the Danish digital health strategy, for example. Theirs is one of the most forward-looking examples of a government-supported objective, transforming patients’ and doctors’ lives for the better. Their citizens have full access to their health data – and all medical data is handled by the government (which, not inseparably, enjoys one of the highest levels of citizen trust in the world). Germany’s DiGA system is also a great example.

What’s needed to achieve this?
Incentives by each government to help physicians in the shift.

Danish digital health

3. Guidance From Medical Associations As Motivation

Medical organisations like the AMA play a huge role in professional motivation. For example, their guidelines on the use of AI for physicians also set a gold standard for doctors. With this, among other objectives, the AMA wanted doctors to get involved in the development of healthcare AI and encourage patient and physician education on the potentials and limitations of AI, bearing in mind that the emerging, carefully designed AI tools and solutions are user friendly and safe for all.

What’s needed to achieve this?
Evidence. Publications, guidelines from professional organisations or governmental bodies will mean motivation.

4. Significantly Improve Working Conditions

Typing memos about patient-doctor encounters is extremely time-consuming. Doctors spend a great amount of time with administration tasks, but digital technology can change that, too. Artificial intelligence-based voice-to-text technology can help. While the doctor and the patient speak, this voice assistant puts down the interpreted text into the relevant columns in the EHRs. With less time on paperwork, doctors will have a better, more rewarding workday. They will be able to provide better quality care, have more time with patients and even share responsibility. And, most importantly, they could concentrate on what they are most qualified for: healing patients with care and empathy.

What’s needed to achieve this?
Accessible digital tools (like voice-over-text solutions) and support systems as well as platforms for learning and experience sharing.

5. Embrace the use of digital health and AI

Digital health is a cultural transformation of healthcare, and it is happening and won’t stop. New devices and solutions arrive by the day. While I said multiple times that AI (and digital health tools) will not replace doctors, I also stick by my opinion that physicians using these tools will replace those who don’t.

We must keep our eyes and minds open and look at this process as opportunity and not as a threat. Getting familiar with algorithms and digital health devices will make doctors capable of providing better care.

What’s needed to achieve this?

Doctors should focus on how the situation of patients and their team members is changing due to the arrival of advanced tech. The question is not which technology or device we should use. It is more important to gain a general understanding of this revolution. Taking some courses on the topic and getting familiar with the “minimal package” all physicians must know about AI is a perfect way to start.

This vision can become reality. Let’s do this.

Dr. Vernes and Dr. Meskó

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