The Evolving Doctor-Patient Relationship in a Digital World

The modern world has given rise to the birth of such rapid advances in technology that it’s difficult to imagine what would happen if computers were rendered useless to us for the space of a single hour. This is of particular relevance to those in the medical field. Technology is now changing the way that doctors communicate with patients, for better or worse, and will continue to do so for years to come. Here are some of the more important changes that technology has brought about in this regard:

E-Records: Before the rise of the Internet, doctors would need to pick up the phone to communicate referral information to other specialists in their network. Now, electronic medical records allow information to be transferred quickly and easily, affording patients optimal care when they need it. Doctors can send patient charts to hospitals so they know what medication the patient is taking, and they can even send medical records to patients via e-mail so that they don’t need to come into the office.

E-Prescriptions: Standard operating procedure permits that patients bring a hand-written prescription to a pharmacy to have it filled. Once the insurance information is cleared and their identity established, they often need to wait, sometimes up to an hour, for a medication they need. Doctors now have the ability to send over prescriptions electronically, so that they are available when the patient arrives. This also eliminates the anxiety of having to transport a physical prescription from one location to the next, increasing the chances of it being lost or stolen.

Webcam Plus: Most patients would prefer to talk to a doctor one-on-one, but it’s not always possible. For this reason, doctors can now communicate with patients via webcam, in the event that they cannot make it into the office. While policy prohibits physicians from making a definitive diagnosis under these conditions, follow-up procedures for important surgeries can be examined more intimately. Communication of this type affords doctors the option of wiring information to the patient via upload, or speaking it directly. Doctors will also confer with the appropriate parties, like other specialists in their network, via webcam to ensure that the patient’s needs are met. This is particularly helpful in a pinch, as when the two are divided by geography and need to confer quickly.

Dr. Internet: Most people would rather consult the Internet for answers to their most intimate health questions before consulting their primary care physician. No concrete measure can be applied to the consequences of such actions, but the Internet is not widely considered to be a legitimate source for medical information. Only a doctor can diagnose a condition, as a minute variance in the profile of certain symptoms could mean the difference between something minor, and something life-threatening. The Internet can only make an educated guess, as it’s only source of reference is what others choose to post.

E-Doctor: In recent years, patients have shown interest in being able to communicate with their primary care physicians through e-mail, as many feel that White Coat Syndrome (a phenomenon that generates fear when a patient walks into a medical setting) depersonalizes the visit, and that doctors are really only people when they’re off the clock. This could not be farther from the truth; most doctors are compassionate to those who would prefer to receive care on a more intimate, relaxed basis.

RMD’s: Independence is a fundamental part of what makes life worth living, and those in the medical field have begun to pay more attention to that. Some patients prefer not to consult with a physician on an intimate basis. In fact, many prefer to be left alone entirely, which is where remote monitoring devices come in. Many physicians are now writing out prescriptions for blood-pressure monitors, among other things, which patients can use in the comfort of their own home. This type of treatment generally includes regular follow-ups, but it gives patients more freedom than they would have in the hospital.

While the use of technology has made healthcare more accessible and convenient, it may also sometimes bear unnecessary strain on doctor-patient relationships. Obviously, regularly scheduled appointments with your patients are best to ensure quality care, and if you have a healthcare management career in a setting such as a hospital, you will want to make sure that the doctors on staff pay special attention to each patient as they will not likely do any of the patients follow up appointments.

The digital age has certainly improved the healthcare industry in many ways. As long as it’s implemented correctly and technology doesn’t interfere with workflow, it will continue to improve the doctor-patient relationship for many years to come.

Denielle Fisher enjoys freelance guest blogging on the latest trends and current events.