The digital age has had a deep and likely permanent effect on the patient-physician relationship. With a plethora of ways to gather information about medical issues, symptoms and newly discovered medical miracles, today’s hi-tech patient isn’t always the best educated patient.
The Internet acts as a vast and readily accessible virtual medical library for patients, allowing users to find unlimited health information on one hand and human testimonials on the other. The only down side to all this technology is that this more times than not leads to information that is no better than old fashioned charlatanism.
Unfortunately this approach to information gathering has not transformed into enhanced interactions between patients and their physicians. It's obvious we all need help in rethinking how we can best work together, especially because we are still in the embryonic stages of this age of distracting new tools that engross some and distress others. Time and time again I read articles detailing the ways in which this seemingly miraculous technology is moving us three steps backward instead of moving us ahead:
- When Jeffery Hanson went to a physician highly recommended on Yelp, he was asked to sign a “mutual privacy agreement” that would transfer ownership of any public commentary he might make in the future to the physician.
- A TechDirt blog post reported that plastic surgeons have sued patients for their online negative reviews and a neurologist sued the son of a stroke victim for negative comments about the physician’s bedside manner.
We should be putting these interactive tools to use, increasing our relationships between patients and physicians instead of deepening the growing chasm created by this same technology.
The good news is that these disruptive technologies can be the very mechanism we need to develop more accountable, quality-driven healthcare delivery systems because they can address some of the significant gaps in patient-physician communications that are so detrimental to the relationship. The Consumer Reports National Research Center conducted patient and provider surveys about the doctor-patient relationship and concluded that patients would get more from doctor office visits if they planned ahead, took notes during the appointments, and conducted careful online research for information. Other studies have shown that patients remember only about 50 percent of what physicians tell them during their visit and that 90 percent of patients receiving a new medication reported their physician never described the drug's side effects. Perhaps most disturbing of all, more than 30 percent of patients was unable to name their diagnosis after being discharged.
Technology shouldn’t be seen as the evil villain that so many patients and care providers think, but as a way to actually improve the patient’s experience and address those frightening statistics. A lot of websites now offer patients the tools necessary to prepare for upcoming visits by watching videos of actual conversations between providers and patients that have the same or similar diagnosis. The patient can then organize their questions before the visit or record their questions if they feel more comfortable letting the doctor listen to their thought out questions instead of worrying about being nervous and forgetting something vitally important. Patients can also record their visits for family and care givers to listen to in later, helping the patient decipher complicated or confusing information.
In the end, technology can greatly improve the patient-physician relationship with a few simple changes to how physicians communicate, both online and off.