Digital technology has disrupted and transformed nearly every sector of the economy, but medicine – perhaps the industry that needs it most – has lagged. Doctors remain heavily bogged down by paperwork, and many of the most exciting advances that technology can bring about remain distant dreams. But Dr. Robert Wachter, renowned hospitalist, chair of the Department of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco and best-selling author of “The Digital Doctor: Hope, Hype and Harm at the Dawn of Medicine’s Computer Age”, says there is ground for optimism. The main obstacle will be getting the medical professionals on the front line to embrace digitalization not as piecemeal technical updating, but as a far-reaching disruptive change.

A technological revolution in health care is overdue, says Wachter. “When you look at the time it has taken in other industries to go from computerization to marked improvements in productivity and quality, on average it takes about 10 years,” he recently expressed in an American Medical Association article. “I’m guessing health care will take more like 15 to 20 years because we are highly regulated and decentralized.” But that delayed threshold is rapidly approaching, and healthcare providers should be prepared to take full advantage of emerging trends. In the same article, Wachter specifically itemizes the “four stages of health IT,” and explains where the health care industry is currently located in its journey of adaptation.

Wachter believes that in at least two crucial areas – the ability of doctors to monitor and treat patients’ health in real time via digital devices, and the virtually unlimited capacity of Electronic Health Record (EHRs) to hold medical information – technology can make a real difference in improving health outcomes. The first development removes the need for non-essential doctors’ and hospital visits, saving time and money, in addition to allowing greater customization of treatment and enhanced doctor/patient contact. The second transformation allows doctors to cut or eliminate the time they spend on administrative work, which is typically about half their workday.

Wachter, a global expert on healthcare safety, quality, policy, and IT and the author of a highly influential report on digitizing England’s National Health Service, is on the frontline of the digital disruption of the traditional health care model. He helps bridge the gap between the tech firms spearheading the innovation, and the healthcare and insurance providers who stand to reap, in the long run, the rewards of massive efficiency gains. Wachter says health care professionals need to stop viewing digitalization in terms of individual technical changes; rather, they must embrace it as a revolution of the entire industry, and adapt accordingly based on their own local circumstances. Ever the optimist, Dr. Wachter reminds us “this is a remarkable time to be in medicine … because we are an industry being transformed.”

While the future of healthcare policy is in limbo, the need for disruptive technologies is apparent. Contact us to inquire about how Dr. Wachter can help your organization capitalize on the promising technological changes on the horizon.