Digital health strategies have the potential to empower patients and transform healthcare services, but it is not clear how these technologies should be regulated and endorsed within our healthcare system. Evaluations of digital tools have shown variable results, and there is a lot of uncertainty around what constitutes a successful digital tool. Dr. Onil Bhattacharyya, Frigon-Blau Chair in Family Medicine Research, works closely with policy makers and system partners to evaluate new virtual care models that address system needs and are poised to scale, particularly for patients with complex needs.
Digital health is a very dynamic area that uses methods from the design, software and startup industries to develop person-centered services that can increase access and comprehensiveness of care while improving experience and reducing costs. Even when there are noticeable benefits, uptake of digital tools has been limited as they may increase workload for providers and costs for organizations in the short term. Dr. Bhattacharyya’s research focuses on implementing new virtual care models within a particular clinical context and modifying them until he finds a balance between benefits and barriers for both patients and providers. Addressing factors such as the right features, which clinical model it supports, who is likely to benefit and what types of benefits can be expected help to improve a tool’s successful implementation.
Currently, Dr. Bhattacharyya’s research is leading evaluations of virtual visits in primary care, remote monitoring in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, care coordination for frail elderly people in rural areas and eye screening for diabetes using digital cameras in primary care to improve health outcomes for patients with complex needs. These digital health tools could dramatically improve care for patients with complex conditions who have difficulty leaving the home, as well as patients with few health problems that want quick and convenient solutions.