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Dr Sara Horst Shares Benefits of Recent Digital Health Developments


Sara Horst, MD, MPH, FACG, of Vanderbilt University Medical Center, discussed the recent digital health developments most beneficial to both patients and providers, as well as considerations around using these tools wisely.

Sara Horst, MD, MPH, FACG, shares how recent digital health advancements could be best implemented by both clinicians and patients. Horst is an associate professor at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) within the division of gastroenterology, hepatology, and nutrition. She is also the ambulatory director of VUMC Telehealth and Specialty Pharmacy and associate vice chair of digital health operations of the Department of Medicine.


What recent digital health developments do you feel will most benefit patients and providers?

I think there's a ton. I am really excited about telehealth. One of the hats that I wear at our institution is the ambulatory director of our telehealth program, and I've really seen it grow and be successful in certain areas. I think, increasingly, we also have asynchronous care options, such as things like e-visits, and things like that, that's exciting.

Then, when you just broaden out just beyond a hospital system, thinking about something like behavioral health digital therapeutics; that is exploding. I'm a gastroenterologist, that's what I practice, and 5 years ago, there really wasn't much. Now, there are tons of behavioral health applications. Some are FDA approved, things like gut hypnotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, symptom monitoring, and so I think that's a really exciting area.

I think we have to think carefully about all of this. We shouldn't just send an app to a patient and expect them to get better. I think if we, as clinicians, are going to use these things, we need to have control over them, we need to have a plan. We need to think about them as a treatment and have a plan with a patient to think about how we would use them, how we would expect management with a medication, how we monitor improvement, and that kind of thing. I think that not only just thinking as a clinician about how we use these is going to be really important.

I think we really also need to think about digital health carefully so that we aren't inundating our clinicians simply with more data to try to evaluate. Our patients are increasingly engaging in medical care via things like patient portals and the electronic medical record. This is great for patient access, but it's really put a ton of pressure on clinicians and that is a point where I think, as hospital systems, as clinicians, and as patients, we need to think carefully how to utilize patient access portals better and streamline that information so it's high yield for our providers.

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