Doctor-patient relationship in times of digital health
As technology improves and evolves at a rapid rate, so has the relationship between doctor and patient. As recent as 15 years ago, a patient needed to visit a doctor for an initial consultation, diagnosis, administering medicine and follow up. Now with virtual consults and telemedicine, speed and convenience are the norms.
The technologies available to doctors are vast. Telemedicine and virtual consultations via platforms like Skype affect the relationship between doctor and patient in positive ways. For example, virtual consultations build trust as doctors are willing to be available and accessible on the patient’s terms. Patients also can eliminate long commutes to their healthcare provider. This can help patients who have limited mobility.
Another advantage is a doctor may know a patient’s medical history, making it easier and faster to prescribe the necessary actions they need to take at the time of the consult.
The doctor-patient technological relationship is not limited to video conferencing. Other pieces of technology are getting involved too. Electronic Health Records (EHR), allow doctors to quickly access your medical history and transfer that data to a necessary specialist if needed. It can also provide him with a reminder or warning, allowing timely follow up with his patients. Wearable tech is getting in on the act too. Markets and Markets Research reports that the medical wearable tech market should reach 14 Billion USD by 2022.
That means, there is a growing demand for tech that can inform doctors real time of a patient’s vitals, sleep patterns and even allow them to monitor insulin levels. As of 2017, there were over 325, 000 mobile health apps created. Though the rate is slowed, apps like Babylon Health and Ada brings virtual doctors to your smartphone using Artificial Intelligence. The Carbon Health app streamlines the doctor-patient relationship using chatbots, instant messaging and video messaging on one platform.
However, is it solely a good thing for the substantial involvement of technology between doctors and patients? The results are varied. Research from The King’s Fund for persons with long-term ailments using telehealth services showed an increase in efficiency but not any noticeable change in effectiveness, vis a vis an in-person visit. Another concern is the ability of patients to use the technology and hold themselves accountable consistently.
Research on an app ‘My Chart in My Hand’ and it’s long-term use, recorded that two-thirds of the users researched, stopped using the app after the first time.
The app was important for recording vital data for chronic illness. With missing data, doctors were unable to assess patients accurately.
Another big concern will be data breaches. What was once considered confidential patient records now flows over databases, any violation can severely break down the doctor-patient relationship. A recent example of this is the eleven million records stolen from Primera Blue Cross in 2015. A close, personal relationship can still inspire confidence in the event of a breach.
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The dilemma between digital relationship and human touch
The question arises; do we still need physical doctor visits? The data points to no. 85% of patients surveyed in a study of telemedicine patients indicated that it improved the availability of doctors, health records and they felt as comfortable virtually as in person. What about age? It seems the older demographic are also embracing telemedicine. A poll by AP-NORC Center indicated over 80% of patients over 40 would use a virtual consultation.
Overall, there is still a percentage of patients that prefer the in-person touch. A 2015 survey conducted by Software Advice indicated 16% of surveyed would prefer in-person visits over virtual.
They felt the virtual interaction was impersonal, they could not read the doctor’s body language, and it lacked empathy they usually receive in person.
The positive results mean hospitals and doctors are using telemedicine, virtual healthcare, and other forms of technology to improve the relationship. The telemedicine market looks to experience 16.5% annual growth through 2023. They see it as a way to reduce unnecessary visits, improve efficiency and make the doctor-patient relationship in a more comfortable space.
There are still emergency situations that require physical consultation. Physical injuries such as sprains, strains, and breaks need to be physically assessed. There’s also the issue of insurance. Some insurance companies around the world do not support a virtual visit. This affects both the patient and the doctor. As technology evolves, patients will be able to provide more information to assess physical ailments. Insurance agents will also wise up and begin to embrace virtual visits.
The doctor-patient relationship looks to be in great hands using telemedicine, apps and wearable tech. Virtual visits reduce the waiting time and commute that was once a deterrent of doctor visits. Telemedicine also reduces the unnecessary visits to Emergency Rooms and improves triage. Wearable tech and apps can monitor conditions in real time and send vital information to doctors.
The digital health market is growing at a rapid pace (though the app market has slowed) with 16.5% growth expected in the next five years.
Though many believe it removes the human touch and empathy that physical contact brings, that gap is being closed as both parties become more comfortable with telemedicine use.
Empathy and bedside manner training are now considered on the telemedicine scale as well as the physical. The evidence seems to point to persons of all ages and ailments embracing its use. Technology in health has a bright future ahead.
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