expressed opinion entrepreneur Contributors are their own.
Even before the pandemic, the U.S. was already facing a shortage of doctors from the early 2000s, which many described as “devastating.” Physicians face long hours, compliance, high malpractice insurance premiums, lots of paperwork keeping them in the office after hours, and mounting medical school debt (which most of the new student loan forgiveness programs won’t cover) .
In fact, the Covid-19 crisis has exacerbated an already worrying problem. During the pandemic, doctors’ lives have become more stressful as they deal with sick and dying patients, a lack of personal protective equipment and beds, mixed communications about Covid and its spread, patients’ fears and their own anxiety about being infected.
Nearly three years into the pandemic, we already have vaccines proven to prevent and mitigate the effects of COVID-19 in various iterations, schools are returning to classrooms without masks, people are setting sail on cruise ships, and coexistence with the virus has become the new normal. However, with the devastation of the coronavirus, doctors are exhausted, frustrated and stressed. Some are considering changing careers. According to a study conducted by the Mayo Clinic and funded by the American Medical Association (AMA), one in five physicians plan to leave their practice by the end of 2023, and one third will reduce their medical practice by the end of 2022 operating hours.
The great medical resignation is upon us. Solutions recommended by the AMA include better support for physicians as parents and caregivers to feel more valued in their roles. But technology that removes some of the details of a doctor’s day-to-day work can also play an important role in reducing a doctor’s heavy burden. That’s it:
Related: Healthcare is in turmoil, but tech could save businesses billions
Virtual meeting with pharmaceutical representatives
Anyone who’s been to a doctor’s office is familiar with the ubiquitous pharmacy representatives, equipped with rolling sample carts, patiently waiting a minute for the doctor’s time. They would wait hours, hardly a minute. Then came the pandemic. All major pharmaceutical companies are sending their representatives home to work remotely. While reps can push their sample carts to the doctor’s office again, both doctors and reps have found that virtual visits lead to more meaningful and productive conversations. By having virtual meetings with representatives, physicians can schedule times that work best for them and spend more time in virtual meetings than in face-to-face meetings.
There are now communication platforms that allow physicians to communicate directly with pharmaceutical companies in a compliant manner. Communication can be as simple as texting, which is handy for doctors who have quick questions about medications and are in between patients. They don’t need to take the time to sit down and log in, they can rest assured that their messages are privileged and encrypted.
Global Date Healthcare reports that physicians overwhelmingly prefer video conferencing over face-to-face meetings. A 2021 poll shows that 75% of healthcare professionals prefer virtual meetings or a mix of virtual and in-person meetings. The pandemic’s wave of digital transformation has permanently changed the way the pharmaceutical industry does business.
Related: How digital tools can help prevent healthcare provider burnout
Telemedicine and Quantum Computing
According to the 2021 McKinsey Physician Survey, 88% said they had used telehealth during the pandemic. The survey also said that while there has been a boom in telehealth during the pandemic, that trend has weakened as consumers use digital platforms 38% higher than pre-pandemic figures. But as pharmaceutical representation has changed, so has the public’s comfort level with telehealth. This is especially true for patients seeking mental health care. According to a 2022 report by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 36 percent of people with mental health and substance use disorders today rely on telehealth.
Without even realizing it, patients are rapidly becoming proficient consumers of digital medicine, which will continue to grow as quantum computing takes center stage in the medical world. With lightning-fast capabilities, quantum computing will enable “computer” diagnostics, complete genetic scans and simulations of patients virtually. Within a decade, quantum computing has the potential to create personalized medicine for patients — without ever seeing the patient in person.
Related: Why telehealth is the future of healthcare
Back in the future, doctors would still have to prescribe special drugs in a complex, slow and costly Byzantine system. Specialty medicines are derived from living cells and are used to treat chronic complex diseases such as cancer and rheumatoid arthritis (eg Keytruda for lung cancer).
Specialty drugs have been on the market since the 1990s, when only 30 drugs were available. Today, there are more than 500. The IQVIA Institute predicts that by 2023, 65% of new pharmaceutical products will be specialty drugs.
Center service is a boon for specialty medicine booms. As the name suggests, the central service centralizes required data, including patient medical history, medication specifications, compliance requirements and insurance information, in one place, making the management of complex processes more manageable.
QR codes, chatbots and artificial intelligence
Digital technologies lead to better outcomes for patients and healthcare providers. Doctors are not trained to be tech-savvy, but luckily technology has become more proficient and user-friendly. QR codes (“Quick Response”) were invented in 1994 and were originally used for marketing. Now, 30 years later, they are widely used in medical manuals, magazines and even patient charts. A 2020 Deloitte survey shows that patients are now more willing to share their medical data, creating an avenue for digital trust using QR codes.
Patients are also increasingly accustomed to talking to AI-powered chatbots that use machine learning and have the ability to become smarter. Chatbots take the load off doctors by quickly and correctly answering questions that can disrupt their busy schedules. They also add a layer of privacy for sensitive issues like genital warts or colonoscopy preparation that can be embarrassing to patients.
AI-based technologies continue to improve healthcare every day—from their application in administrative tasks to drug development to predictive analytics. These technologies will not replace doctors, but will increase their efficiency and reduce their burden. With life expectancy in the U.S. falling staggeringly sharply, now more than ever, we need our physicians to be at their best.
Related: AI use in healthcare accelerates during pandemic. It’s here.