Healthcare cannot and should not be limited to 15-minute visits in the doctor’s office any more.
In the age of the World Wide Web, physicians have a new set of responsibilities. We now have an abundance of social tools with which to educate and listen to volumes of patients simultaneously. The more we leverage the lessons learned from using these social tools, the more relevant science-based data and physicians will be in improving care for our patients.
Nearly four years ago, I started blogging for Seattle Children’s Hospital as Seattle Mama Doc. My goal was simple: to bring doctors and patients together by providing evidence-based recommendations and real-time parenting advice. It worked. Blogging, tweeting, posting videos on YouTube and networking on LinkedIn allowed for one-to-many communication. I could now reach thousands of my patients at the same time. Facebook, for example, allowed me to discover my patients’ responses to new data and controversial parenting topics. There was a clear thirst for practical and timely online health advice.
Today, it is our job to anticipate the future of healthcare, to embrace how patients learn about health and to respond to the dynamic landscape of information delivery. The paternity of health remains—doctors decide how patients can obtain and access care while patients comply. I believe that primary medical care is at its best, however, when it is a mix of personal, individualized, private and hands-on information, in addition to online advice from physicians between visits.
I am confident that 10 to 20 years from now, healthcare will look very different than it does today. Patients will be invited to help diagnose and treat, and to share their online sources of information on disease prevention, treatment and management with their doctors. In turn, physicians will be asked to share what they know about new medical issues between visits with patients.
In 2005, Statistics Canada reported that more than one-third of Canadian adults used the Internet to search for health information. A recent report from the Pew Research Center found that 35% of adults in the US have used Dr. Google or other search engines to try to figure what medical condition they or someone else may have. It’s clear that most people are unsatisfied with current access to clinicians, doctors and expert data when it comes to their health. Patients are increasingly tracking, sensing and self-diagnosing.
Communication between patients and physicians remains inferior to our wishes. Patient portals often don’t meet the mark, portions of medical records remain inaccessible and a portion of the time physicians spend communicating with patients goes unpaid. It is therefore the perfect time to re-evaluate the doctor-patient relationship, itself a very precious commodity in healthcare.
Imagine if the system allowed you to have access to your doctor online, via Skype, or enabled you to discover your doctor’s opinion on a breaking medical news story. Imagine if you owned your, or your children’s, chart, as well as charts for people for whom you are the primary health advocate. Imagine asynchronous video chats and responses with your clinician from your desk at work. The possibilities are endless.
I think it is time for all of us to harness the brilliance of social tools. Patients’ online activity should be celebrated, integrated and prioritized. Let’s bring doctors and patients back together again by building the tools we need to form valuable partnerships.
Join us on September 18, 2013 to hear Dr. Swanson present at the Health Innovation Series: Changing the way healthcare is delivered, one patient at time. Advance registration required. Register now.
Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson is a board-certified, practicing pediatrician, blogger, author and speaker. Watch her 9-minute TEDx talk for more.