We spoke with Dr. James Madara, CEO and EVP of the American Medical Association, about the latest advances in medical IT and the changes in the health care system that still need to be made.

In what ways is digital health revolutionizing the health care industry?

James Madara: Advancements in digital health are rapidly changing health care, allowing physicians to care for patients virtually anywhere at any time. Telemedicine offers more frequent and direct communication with your doctor, while some mobile health applications promise real-time monitoring of patient health by allowing patients to track their exercise, nutrition and sleep habits, just to name a few.

Unfortunately, much of what currently is sold directly to consumers in the name of digital health does not deliver on its promise. The biggest issue is that patients are placing their trust in products that are untested and unproven. These technologies may actually impede care by giving patients false assumptions about their health, and do little to further the physician-patient relationship. Digital innovations in medicine are most effective when they have empirical evidence to support their claims, are independently validated, have practical value and can be seamlessly connected to other digital devices.

“The reality is that American physicians have become the most expensive data entry workforce on the face of the planet.”

Physicians can play an important role in the development of new digital technologies because they bring with them clinical expertise and a deep medical knowledge base to devise the tools that are needed. That’s why the AMA has formed partnerships and built relationships with tech innovators and entrepreneurs to give physicians a voice when new products are being developed so that functionality is not lost in the design.

Last year, AMA launched a health care innovation space within Chicago’s MATTER, which now has more than 120 health-focused tech start-ups. Within this interactive studio space, entrepreneurs and physicians can collaborate on digital solutions to common health care frustrations.

Earlier this year, we launched Health2047 in San Francisco, an independently run, for-profit innovation lab that features multifunctional teams of engineers, coders, physicians, product developers and others to develop products, test them and get them to market.

Health2047 and MATTER are two of the many factors in the AMA’s innovation ecosystem, which is bridging technology and medicine to produce more efficient and useful tools for physicians.

Why are medical students still being trained on early-20th century models?

The medical profession, like many industries, has undergone seismic change in the Digital Era. And medicine, particularly medical education, has been slow to respond and keep pace with these dramatic changes.

The AMA created the “Accelerating Change in Medical Education” initiative in 2013 to help our nation’s top medical schools create the blueprint for a 21st century medical education. Our consortium now includes 32 top medical schools working collaboratively to imbue future physicians with the skills needed to be proficient in health care delivery science and prepare them to analyze data, lead teams in innovation, and of course, to care for patients and communities in our modern health system.

The physician of the future needs to know more than just biomedical and clinical sciences — they need to understand the science of health care delivery. This new discipline includes understanding how to improve health care quality, increase the value of care provided, enhance patient safety, deliver population-based medical care and work collaboratively in teams. Physicians need to learn how to advocate for their patients and communities and understand the socio-economic determinants of health, health care policy and medical economics.

“Digital innovations in medicine are most effective when they have empirical evidence to support their claims, are independently validated, have practical value and can be seamlessly connected to other digital devices.”

Our consortium of schools is providing innovative curriculum that embeds students in real-world experiences, introduces them to cutting-edge technology and helps them become lifelong learners. These schools will graduate not just expert clinicians but new types of physicians who are system-based thinkers, change agents, technology champions and inter-professional team players ready to thrive – and help their patients thrive, too — in today’s rapidly changing health care environment.

How does health care IT make the jobs of medical professionals easier?

Physicians recognize the tremendous potential in health care IT, but are looking to professional associations like the AMA to help them make sense of the changing landscape of medicine and ensure that these new tools are efficient, actionable and connected.

Electronic patient health records (EHRs) are a good example. EHRs are now standard across our industry and are a vast improvement over the paper records that had come before. But did you know that your primary care physician can’t send your electronic record to a specialist in another clinic? Or that EHRs aren’t yet reliable enough to eliminate redundancies in your medication or testing?

Did you know that your physician may spend hours of his or her time every day inputting patient data into the computer? If you’ve been to the doctor lately, maybe you’ve noticed. A recent AMA study showed today’s physicians, on average, spend twice as much time entering patient information on the keyboard, than they do interacting with patients.

The reality is that American physicians have become the most expensive data entry workforce on the face of the planet. This is unacceptable, and it’s why the AMA worked with physician experts, researchers and executives in health IT to develop a framework to improve the functionality and interoperability of EHRs. The priorities include promoting care coordination and data liquidity, supporting team-based care and facilitating digital and mobile patient engagement, along with other improvement measures to maximize the effectiveness of EHRs.

The AMA believes that unlocking the potential in EHRs and other health IT technologies will free-up physicians to spend more time with their patients, improving both the quality of care they provide but also their own professional satisfaction. This is how we aim to drive positive change in medicine and how we can ultimately improve the health of our nation.