If implemented correctly, innovations like virtual clinic visits and automated doctor’s appointment text alerts actually enhance this all-important relationship in healthcare.
Whether you are suffering from the common cold, struggling with a chronic illness like diabetes or are simply seeking a healthier lifestyle, there are few professional relationships more important than the one between yourself and your doctor. But in this fast-paced information age where person-to-person communication is becoming more detached, it might seem counter-intuitive that technology could actually help to foster a positive doctor-patient relationship. But to healthcare professionals and consumers who have already embraced various cutting-edge technologies in communicating, this has not shown to be the case at all.
But Isn’t Technology Bad?
We have all heard warnings about screen addiction, the perils of blue light, ADHD, and more being caused by our collective shift toward the digital world. And it’s true – blue light can disrupt your sleep cycles and harm your vision. Too much screen time correlates with increased risk of ADHD, though there isn’t necessarily a causal connection. And anything can be addictive if you have disordered thinking or a mental illness.
The fact of the matter is that we are using more technology because that is how we communicate and get information these days. Instead of gathering around the water cooler at work we communicate on apps like Slack to exchange information and to chat about the recent popular television shows. Instead of calling relatives we keep up with them on social media. Instead of sitting in the barber shop Saturday morning reading the newspaper and discussing world events, we read stories online in solitude. This is the evolution of human communication, and doctors would be wise to meet patients where they are for more effective communication.
Facing Shortages, Doctors Need To Be Creative
According to a recent study from HIMSS.org, there will be 61,000 to 94,700 fewer physicians practicing in the U.S. than there are today by the time 2026 rolls around. This is likely to translate to a doctor shortage as the population grows, but fortunately there are alternatives.
Doctors may not need to see you in the office for every sniffle – oftentimes a phone call or virtual visit will do. Once the technology is widely available to ensure quality care to all patients regardless of access to technology, we will likely see greater adoption of such practices.
Patients and doctors are already visiting each other virtually through online and mobile app services like Amwell, MDLive, Teladoc and Doc in a Box, and these services are likely to grow as a result of physician shortages. Specialists are already able to monitor the health of patients through wearable devices, which means lesser need for patients to be monitored in person and lesser need for those healthcare professionals needed to do the monitoring. As technology improves for wearable devices, these devices are likely to become more commonplace. This will free up medical professionals for the most pressing tasks, further addressing the staff shortages. They could also give patients who need to track their progress over the long term a greater amount of accountability in real time.
Improving patient outcomes is not the only thing that technology can help to change. Minnesota-based OneOme helps doctors and patients tailor the right medications to individuals based on DNA testing. This technology can help to lessen side effects, which often can be almost as bad as the illness itself. Technology in medicine isn’t just there to streamline the process – it can also be invaluable for improving patient outcomes.
There’s also ample opportunity for technology to be used to improve the business side of medical practices. Any sort of technological improvements in this department can help physicians practice medicine instead of business, which ultimately improves patient outcomes as well. Companies like PatientPop help independent private practices looking to streamline marketing efforts, attract more patients, and improve online presence.
How Technology Is Already Improving The Doctor-Patient Relationship
Searching for Healthcare
The days of living in one place and having the same town doctor for your entire life are over. Between changing lifestyles and the nature of health insurance, people are searching for new doctors on a pretty regular basis. Physicians who are not business minded could be left out if they are not actively improving their SEO – no one will be able to find them. Meeting patients where they are is key, and PatientPop recently partnered with Amazon to allow patients to voice search doctors through Alexa.
Making and Confirming Appointments
Once the job of front office staff, technology can streamline the process of making appointments and sending reminders. This has the potential to free up office staff for more pressing matters, of which there are typically many.
PatientPop provides practices with online booking services and automated appointment reminder alerts for patients via text, greatly reducing no-shows and eliminating phone reminders from administrative tasks for the clinic. ZocDoc is another online booking service that also provides patients with verified reviews of each practice, helping individuals make informed healthcare decisions.
Communicating Via Social Media (This Includes Video)
While social media is not a great place to offer medical advice, there are ample opportunities to use social media to connect with patients for other reasons. With 76 percent of Facebook users on the site every day, many doctors are using social media to connect with patients and to research their fields of practice. Support groups for rare diseases are more readily available through social media, giving researchers greater access to a larger sample of patient populations.
Clinics are also using video to discuss trending health issues – a powerful tool to not only inform the public but to market the practice. Many people like to get information about a disease or health issue before discussing with their physicians so that they can have a greater understanding of what is being said as well as treatment options.
Some healthcare providers still fear that certain forms of technology could muddle the trust between doctors and patients. But if implemented correctly, these innovations can actually enhance the doctor-patient relationship, improving care as doctor-patient ratios grow.