Digital Health: Finding Where Your Worlds Intersect

By its nature, digital health creates many opportunities for people to get involved in a variety of ways

Digital Health
Digital Health

Photo Courtesy Cook Children’s

The future of medicine is digital health, but only if you define it properly.

I define digital health as the intersection of the digital revolution with health care.

Fortunately that creates many opportunities for people to get involved. You can be a designer, nurse, developer, social media expert or physician, and have a role.

For now, I have two roles that put me in the center of digital health for Cook Children’s. I am the Medical Advisor for Digital Health. For this role, I write and review content for our daily pediatric newsroom, checkupnewsroom.com. I am also the Director of Primary Care Innovation. You might find me dabbling in telemedicine, patient workflow tools, helping to design our new Cook Children’s app or just about anything else that involves new ways of connecting with and treating patients.


When people hear my titles, I generally get one of two questions:

“What does it mean Medical Advisor for Digital Health?”

“What do you do with the innovation-role-thing that you have?”

Digital Health

Photo Courtesy Cook Children’s

I get these questions frequently through online channels and in person. Answering them isn’t always simple.

Maybe it’s because I haven’t perfected my elevator pitch. When I start to explain, some inherently get it and understand what it is that I do. Others respond with, “Oh yeah, like Facebook and Twitter. I’m not really into that.”

Another common response that I hear, “I can’t really do my job with telemedicine.”

And I get it: It’s new. It takes time. It’s a challenge. The ROI isn’t quite there yet.

But, I do think we need to challenge our thinking on those absolute positions. We need to shift from thinking that it’s all or nothing and start thinking in more nuanced terms.

Digital Health

Maybe you won’t become a tweeting, blogging doctor. But, what content will you publish in order to establish a healthy digital presence for yourself or your practice? Will you monitor the 60-80 review sites to make sure that your patients who have positive experiences aren’t drowned out by the noise of a rare patient who had a bad one? Will you be prepared to help steer the conversation back towards science when celebrities hijack the conversation with something otherwise?

Innovation and Telemedicine

There are very few physicians whose role would allow them to transition their practice completely to telemedicine. But, all of us have some aspect of our practice that can be done in a new way if we would just take the time to think about it.

Primary care docs may not ever do check-ups online, but can you diagnose a diaper rash for a family with a newborn so that they don’t have to load the baby and siblings up to come to the office? Some specialists really stand by their belief that their practice is not amendable to telemedicine.

Digital health

Photo Courtesy Cook Children’s

I understand that GI docs can’t scope a patient remotely but could they develop a digital health app and telemedicine service to help PCPs manage complex constipation or milk-protein issues? ENT docs can’t place PE tubes but could they do their entire pre-op workup and decision making with data and pictures or photos captured by parents or the child’s PCP? I don’t know, time will tell.

I still believe we are a long way from an all or nothing shift towards new tools for all physicians but I do believe we have to start asking ourselves these questions:

1) What can or should I do in the public sphere to better inform my patients and manage my reputation?

2) What parts of my practice could I bring in new technology in order to improve patient care or improve patient convenience and satisfaction?

If we can break it down to these simple questions, I believe that we can start to break down some of the walls that prevent innovation in health care. 

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R E A D   N E X T

Dr. Justin Smith is the Director for Primary Care Innovation for Cook Children’s and the Medical Director for Cook Children’s Innovate Pediatric Clinic in Trophy Club. Read more about pedi(...)