How has technology advanced the medical field and evolved doctor-patient relationships? With consumer giants like Amazon and Google entering the healthcare arena with new medical technology, a casual observer could assume that patients are as excited about diving into their healthcare decisions as they are about filling a shopping cart.
But the opposite seems to be true. Take one of IBM’s healthcare efforts, for example. In 2016, the company offered employees $20 to $50 gift cards to sign up for its new healthcare app designed to help patients navigate the healthcare system. Very few people downloaded the app, however, and those that did hardly used it, reports The Washington Post.
Does this mean that patients aren’t interested in technology? Not at all. But it is a strong indication that a role physicians have traditionally taken on—one of educated and experienced adviser—isn’t going anywhere soon, regardless of how quickly healthcare is “disrupted.”
How technology affects the doctor-patient relationship
First, it’s important to understand that, even with all the talk of AI replacing physicians, patients don’t see tech as a substitute for the doctor-patient relationship; they see it as an enhancement. According to Managed Healthcare Executive, a survey sponsored by ResMed found that 85% of participants value their relationship with doctors and believe the use of new technology can aid in easing frustrations and fostering a structured relationship.
A good example of this dynamic can be found in telehealth. Interest in this arena has risen steadily over the last few years, with the American Academy of Family Physicians suggesting that physicians who aren’t using the technology should consider implementing it. Why? Because it helps physicians address issues such as recruitment and retention while facilitating consistent, timely care for patients. The takeaway is that patients are more than open to technology—as long as it helps deepen relationships with physicians.
Medical technology advances that are too confusing or impersonal will only create more distance and further complicate patients’ relationships with the healthcare system. Patients don’t just want empowerment or control. They want connection with knowledgeable professionals who can support and advise them in their healthcare journey.
Ciitizen is one example of how technology can enhance the doctor-patient relationship. This platform allows cancer patients to collect, organize and share their health information to better coordinate with caregivers, contribute to research and even obtain second opinions.
Striking the right balance
As a physician, you occupy a critical role in the advancement of medical technologies. Patients are being approached directly by companies eager to disrupt healthcare, and hospitals and startups rely on physician input to make the right choice for their tech partners and acquisitions. As more players enter the industry, physicians will play an even more central role in patient education and gatekeeping the solutions that ultimately impact patient outcomes. Doctors can help empower patients to adopt new solutions without placing undue burden on them by considering a few common problem areas.
- Frustration – Doctors have been notoriously frustrated by electronic health records (EHRs) because of the administrative burden and the time it takes away from patients. Anything that frustrates you as a medical professional is likely to impact your patients at an even deeper level.
- Resistance to change – Healthcare experiences are almost always outside of a patient’s normal daily routine. Even the support of seemingly familiar tech solutions doesn’t change this. Additionally, while tech solutions might be mandated for clinicians (think EHR regulations), for most patients, it’s easy to default to older ways of doing things. This means that outlining the benefit of a technology and encouraging adoption is a task unto itself.
- Ease of use – To understand what drives patient behavior when it comes to adopting tech solutions, consumer trends can be useful guides. While every trend isn’t going to translate directly to a healthcare setting, patients do expect a more consumer-based feel to technology, even as it facilitates the traditional doctor-patient relationship. Consider fundamental factors like accessibility, simplicity and results over more superficial traits.
How has technology advanced the medical field?
Perhaps the better question is how technology will advance medicine in the coming years. After all, with all the progress that’s been made over the last few years, medical technology advances still have a long way to go. For doctors, that gap represents an opportunity to shape the future of medical technology and the evolving role of physicians in patient lives.