Published on March 23rd, 2021 📆 | 1578 Views ⚑0
Why Technology And Patient Trust Are Critical To Preventing Fallout From The Antibiotic Crisis
Robbie is CEO and Co-Founder of 98point6, pairing deep technology with board-certified MDs to deliver on-demand text-based primary care.
Health care and technology have become inextricably linked. Tech solutions built upon medical expertise are enabling health care providers to improve the delivery of care, reduce costs, increase access and better adhere to best practices. As proved through recent use cases—including virtual care, symptom screening apps and Covid-19 contact tracing—technology innovation is also becoming increasingly integral to solving global health issues.
One such issue is antibiotics overuse and resistance, a severe global health crisis that—according to the World Health Organization (WHO)—claims the lives of hundreds of thousands of people every year and is expected to worsen in the wake of Covid-19. If the toll of antibiotic-resistant bacteria is not swiftly and sufficiently brought under control, the global economy will suffer $100 trillion in costs, and the WHO estimates that up to 24 million people will be forced into “extreme poverty” by 2030.
While these figures are alarming, technology and innovation are sources of opportunity to support initiatives that the Centers for Disease Control and other global health agencies have rolled out to deal with the issue.
In recent years, entire pharma operations were devoted to developing new antibiotics that would prove effective against resistant bacteria. However, when returns were slim in comparison to development projects for other drugs, many pharma companies shut down their antibiotics research. In the wake of Covid-19, progress was further stunted, and the few labs that had been on the cusp of breakthroughs shuttered or reduced staff to skeleton crews.
To make up for lost time, aggressive investment on both pharmaceutical and technological fronts is now needed. In parallel, the federal government must also de-risk antibiotic development in the same way it did to accelerate the development of Covid-19 vaccines.
Beyond progress in pharma R&D, investments in technology can support physicians by providing tools that make it easier for them to improve transparency, consistently follow recommended practice standards for antibiotic use, reduce unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions and eliminate variability between providers. Today, an estimated one in three antibiotics prescribed in doctor’s offices and in ERs are unnecessary.
However, with technologies like AI—which can provide advanced analysis of research data and insights into antibiotic prescription rates locally, nationally and globally—doctors can better understand the big picture and their role in fixing the problem. Leveraging technology to shed light on antibiotics prescriptions can help hold the health care industry accountable and maintain an adequate level of transparency about how this problem is being addressed.
Through technology, doctor time can also be freed up so physicians can prioritize high-quality care over visit volume. When physicians can spend time with their patients, they can offer more empathy, reassurance and education about the dangers of antibiotic overuse.
Rising costs, increasing consumer reliance on internet symptom checks and political turmoil over health care legislation have all contributed to regressions in the overall health care system. People struggle to quickly and conveniently access their providers, are increasingly making their own diagnoses and are lacking trust in doctor advice. In turn, many often insist on antibiotic treatment even when it may not be necessary. Developing solutions that target these problems directly and leveraging technology to eliminate cost and accessibility barriers that keep people from seeking primary care are key pieces in rebuilding patient trust and ultimately reducing unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions.
It’s important for health care providers to select technology solutions carefully, though. Beware of regressive technologies that do not put the doctor-patient relationship at the forefront and that give disproportionate power to computers rather than physicians. For technology to make an impact on this issue, solutions must put medicine before tech.
When patients are enabled to easily engage with primary care, they will gain more confidence that physicians are indeed looking out for their best interest. When patients trust their doctors, they are much more likely to accept a recommendation to pursue treatments other than antibiotics. This enables physicians to unify patient satisfaction with good stewardship, rather than being forced to choose one or the other. If a doctor-patient dynamic of partnership and education is achieved on a mass scale, we’ll find a viable detour from the current trajectory’s dire financial and health outcomes.
Across governments, doctors, pharma companies, investors and the broader health care industry, the fight against antibiotic resistance has, to date, remained a losing battle with severe consequences. Innovation and patient trust are our only weapons. To effectively leverage them, we need a balance of advanced technology and rebuilding of primary care. This will allow health care providers to establish a broad and ongoing understanding of the state of antibiotic consumption, a foundation for patient education, and ultimately, the stewardship needed to protect millions of people from yet another massive economic and public health crisis.