Virtual care acceleration signals new roles for providers in digital age
June 29, 2021
As more health institutions gear up for a virtual future by embracing artificial intelligence, robotics and telemedicine, practitioners say their roles will inevitably change along with technology upgrades. “The digital representation of our work has already arrived,” said Dr. Lee Schwamm, vice-president, Virtual Care at Mass General Brigham and director of TeleHealth at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. “If you were to walk around a typical hospital, you would see doctors, nurses and everyone on a phone or computer all day long.”
Already, he said, nurses at his hospital are equipped with iPhones with secure messaging so they can receive data about their patients directly and, in turn, be able to message other team members as needed. “If there’s a question, this is real-time access to people and information.”
Dr. Schwamm said having a technology interface has become so important these days that when a patient comes into the hospital without a device, the hospital better be equipped to provide one.
“Now it’s a given that we are a connected society and that both providers and patients rely on being reachable at all times,” he said. “In our case, it’s an iPad in every hospital room – we deployed thousands of these during COVID-19 and now we’re trying to build more engaging applications.”
Eventually, he believes this bedside device will be the way primary care doctors and nurses check in on their patients, share information and connect to a medical interpreter in a patient’s language of choice.
Dr. Schwamm, who co-authored Virtual Care: New Models of Caring for our Patients and Workforce, said understanding how to use data and how to connect people with technology is an important skill “that the modern healthcare worker needs to be adept at.”
In speculating on healthcare roles over the next decade, consultants say being adept at using digital technologies will be just as critical as having clinical knowledge. In The Future of Hospital Care: A Better Patient Experience video series, released in January 2020 from global consulting firm McKinsey & Company, the presenters say technology training for healthcare professionals will be imperative.
“As early as in medical school, we should start teaching about digitalization in the hospital space,” said Bo Chen, a partner in McKinsey’s Beijing office. “We should teach about the IT systems and how physicians can play an important part in optimizing the system and optimizing the processes and recognizing the value of technology in medical care.”
As the primary interface with patients in the hospital, Dr. Schwamm said nurses in particular, and those considering a nursing career in the future will need to become comfortable with the idea of technology as another service that helps them deliver the best care to their patients.
He urges those resisting technology advances for fear of losing human connections to remember that video and telemedicine have been a lifeline to many during the pandemic. “They could see their nurses on screen without masks and shields, which was actually more human,” he said. “In the end, your job as a nurse, physician or other hospital staff member is about how to make this patient encounter as valuable, cost-effective and satisfying as possible.”
In adopting new technologies into the hospital, he said it’s not about replacing what nurses do with less valuable tasks, but rather enabling them to do the things they care about in a simpler and more reliable way.
“I’m not advocating for more data as you should not have to turn yourself into a data-entry factory to be part of the care team,” said Dr. Schwamm. “It’s actually about the smart use of technology to accomplish things that would be difficult or impossible otherwise.”