These issues were the subject of a panel on health technology at the SXSW Conference on Saturday.

David Ring, M.D., associate dean for comprehensive care and professor of surgery at Dell Medical School, kicked off the session with an image of a rash he had aquired and incorrectly diagnosed as a spider bite. When the rash didn’t heal, Ring texted a picture of it to his friend, a practicing dermatologist, who ended up prescribing Ring anitbiotics. While not everyone has a dermatologist at the ready, that doesn't mean that he or she shouldn't, Ring said. He urged the attendees to consider the barriers to such interactions. 

The panel, which also included Kristi Henderson, vice president of telehealth and innovation at Seton Healthcare Family, part of Ascension Healthcare, and Nick van Terheyden, chief medical officer, NTT Data (formerly Dell), discussed those barriers and where improvements need to be made if technology is to truly benefit patients and improve health. Below are a few of the topics they discussed.

Getting comfortable with uncertainty

Although many anticipate the Uberification of health care, speakers at SXSW reminded attendees that Uber wasn’t a welcome alternative for everyone: namely, the taxicab industry. And, it seems, some physicians have a fear of similar disruption. If patients can get care without leaving their couches, what use would they have for physician’s offices? Ginni Rometty, CEO, IBM, addressed that question during HIMSS17 a few months ago, and it popped up again during SXSW.

“The fear of this technology is [that it’s] going to remove our relevance. I think we’re terrified this is a replacement, and suddenly [a physician is] diminished to a $20 tele-consultation with limited scope, and that for me creates a barrier that’s a little artificial,” Terheyden said.

And if we truly do want to use technology to improve care, which we should, a shift in thinking must occur, said Ring.

“It has to do with a culture change. We as people seeking health, and people providing health need to be comfortable with uncertainty, contingencies and changes — and we are not,” he said.

Reimbursement models are outdated

Reimbursing providers fairly proved to be a hot topic.

“How do we integrate technology so you as consumers can access the health care that you want in a more convenient and cost-effective way?” asked Henderson. “There are a lot of challenges, in that we’re trying to bring new, innovative solutions, but the policies, regulations and reimbursement models are not new and built on very specific pathways.”

One audience member questioned why there hasn’t been a move in the industry to democratize health care knowledge for patients to consult, possibly eliminating an unnecessary visit to the physician’s office.

Part of the problem is finding a way to compensate for the time and value that goes in to curating that knowledge, Terheyden said. Providers need to be where their customers are, and clinical experts are the ones that are going to have to address that, he explained.

The era of consumer-oriented care is here

With all this in mind, panelists drove-home the importance of embracing the consumer’s role in care. Doing such personalizes the care experience, and enables providers to give more individualized, compassionate care than before.

“Consumers are now a part of the health care team,” says Henderson. “No longer are they a passive part of it, and technology is going to allow that to happen in more ways that will totally change the health care system."