Smart Phone + Empowered Patient= Changing Doctor/Patient Relationship

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The Smart Phone has become an integral part of the modern lifestyle since first introduced around 2007. Now, less than a decade later, Smart Phone usage and applications have infiltrated medicine and have the opportunity to profoundly change the way we practice medicine.   Smart Phones are the perfect example of a disruptive technology that can have both positive and negative impacts.

There are two principles common to disruptive technologies.  First, disruptive technology comes by surprise. It is completely unplanned and unanticipated.  Secondly, disruptive technology has a huge impact on day to day life. This impact fundamentally changes the way human beings live their lives.  The impact of a disruptive technology never shows up in a strategic planning session– to deal with disruptive technology, we must be observant, flexible and open to change the way we presently practice.  How the  use of such a technology as Smart Phones will change the doctor/patient relationship is just one of the questions that will be raised.

By 2013, there were over 2 billion Smart Phones in circulation and over 1.2 billion people using Smart Phone applications.  It is forecasted to grow to 4.4 billion users by 2017.  Smart Phones allow the users a cheaper, faster way to access data.  Users now have the opportunity to immediately acquire data, and take data acquisition into their own hands.

In my presentation, “Practicing Medicine on the Smart Phone and the Positive Roles of Disruptive Technology”, I discuss several implications of the Smart Phone in the future practice of medicine– in particular the combination of Smart Phone technology and the empowered patient and its resultant impact on the doctor/ patient relationship.

Our society wants things faster and faster.  The Smart Phone readily accomplishes this need.  Patient lab results, E.K.G ratings, vital signs- just to name a few- can now be transmitted directly to the caregiver and patient via the patient’s Smart Phone.   In the “Old Model”, the patient sees the doctor, the doctor orders the test, test comes back, etc.  In the end the whole process can take weeks, even up to months. In the “New Model”, this entire process can be done electronically in a matter of minutes.  In result, the whole process of practicing medicine becomes expedited.

Enter the role of the empowered patient.   There are pros and cons to the empowered patient.  The pros can seem quite obvious: Individual patients should become more responsible for their own outcomes.   Patients will be more accountable for their own health care.  Patients can acquire information either through applications or online data about their health through their Smart Phones.  But there are possible negative effects.  First, while there is a wealth of information on the internet, how does the patient differentiate good information from bad information?  A  study last year by Pew showed that a significant amount of information procured by the patient was incorrect.   Also very few patients could be considered experts.  We all learned a long time ago that “a patient who treats himself has a fool for a doctor”, but now we are relying on the patients to not only find good information, but then to apply this information correctly and appropriately.

Put together, the combination of the empowered patient and the immediate benefits of the Smart Phone will change the very nature of the doctor/ patient relationship.  Once again there are pros and cons.  There is the opportunity to substantially increase the efficiency of health care delivery.  However, there are also potential downsides.   Although, there could be obvious advantages, we could be missing certain important clues in diagnosis and management, such as non-verbal patient cues and other subtle signs.  The role of the physician as comforter and supporter will be diminished.

Disruptive technology is unavoidable and requires certain flexibility. Smart Phones in particular have changed the way we practice medicine and the way that data is acquired for patients.  I believe this will advance and improve the practice of medicine, but we as physicians will have to learn to adapt to the changing environment.  The physician- patient relationship as we had always known, will change profoundly.   Are we ready for this?

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