When I began practicing medicine, “patient data” consisted of little more than paper records and X-rays tucked away in filing cabinets. I couldn’t have imagined the flood we’re experiencing today, with data from electronic health records, health apps, wearables and genetic testing now at our fingertips.
Without a doubt, these new sources of information will revolutionize medicine, transforming both how doctors practice and how patients experience their care.
But are we ready for that revolution?
For Stanford Medicine’s 2020 Health Trends Report, we conducted a national poll of physicians, residents and medical students to uncover how emerging health trends and technologies are affecting tomorrow’s doctors, how they are shaping attitudes about the future, and, critically, how clinical professionals are preparing for it.
What we see is a medical workforce readying for disruption. Nearly half of physicians and three-quarters of medical students surveyed said that they are seeking additional training to prepare for innovations in healthcare. Increasingly, many students and physicians are turning their focus to advanced statistics and data science.
It is an encouraging development and a hopeful sign of things to come. For too long, healthcare has lagged behind other sectors of the economy that have been transformed by data and digital technologies. And yet, with change at our doorstep, we also see that the institutions preparing tomorrow’s health leaders still may not be ready for it.
When asked to rate the effectiveness of their education in preparing them for new technologies, only 18% of residents and medical students said that their education was “very helpful,” while 44% of physicians said their education was either “not very helpful” or “not helpful at all.” Moreover, physicians and those in training report major gaps in readiness to implement the innovations they believe will most benefit patients, most starkly so with personalized medicine.
Finally, growing disillusioned with their career path, nearly 1 in 5 physicians and residents would choose a profession outside medicine if given the opportunity to redo their careers. Poor work-life balance and excessive administrative burdens are among their top motivators to start over.
Given these findings, the medical community should not waste any time engaging to better prepare and support tomorrow’s healthcare providers. I believe two principles should steer these discussions.
The first principle is supporting lifelong learning, a practice that physicians are already accustomed to. As artificial intelligence, predictive analytics and related technologies continue to evolve, medicine will grow increasingly interdisciplinary. Medical educators and employers must modernize their training to reflect this reality, providing ongoing opportunities for clinicians to strengthen their skills in subjects such as data science, statistics and genetic risk assessment.
The second principle is humanizing medicine. While new innovations and data-driven insights will improve healthcare delivery, we cannot lose sight of the patients behind the data. The fact that healthcare providers would entertain the idea of leaving their profession is cause for concern. We all, especially patients, stand to lose when this is the case.
We know, for example, that physicians now spend more than half their workday entering information into EHRs—time that would otherwise go to patients. Far from enabling physicians as was once envisioned, EHRs have become unwieldy billing systems that detract from their effectiveness and diminish the joy of practicing medicine. Addressing this issue must be a top priority and will require the joint cooperation of clinicians, health administrators, regulators, technology developers and health plans.
The next decade of medicine has vast potential to be transformative. We now have a wealth of data to inform our clinical decisions, personalize care and apply new insights to predict and prevent the onset of disease—at a time when 60% of Americans suffer from a chronic condition. With a clear-eyed view of the challenges ahead, we can rise to the opportunity.