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Guest Blog: Will Information Technology Squeeze Physicians Out Of Their Central Role In Health Care?


Not by a long shot if patients have anything to say about it.

Turns out that while most of us (90%) would like be able to make a doctor's appointment and check lab results online, 85% of us also still want the option to talk to our physician face-to-face. These are the findings from a recent 2012 study conducted by Accenture.

These findings will no doubt come as a surprise to many of those high-tech newcomers to health care looking to make physician and trips to the doctor's office a thing of the past with some new 'killer health app.' You wouldn't believe how little many of these software and app developers know about how health care works. Then again, if you have looked at some of the EMRs, PHRs, and patient portals solutions being hyped out there maybe you could believe it.

What is significant about the finding cited above is that patients at least get it. They understand the value of a having a relationship with a knowledgeable physician or similar health care provider.  In spite of, and for some, because of the plethora of health information outlets on the web, people want to know that they always have access to their family doc when the chips are down.

What newbie software engineers and  smart phone app developers fail to understand is that health care is fundamentally about social interactions'not technical data transactions like depositing a check or making an airline reservation.

Here's what I mean, based upon some 20+ years working in health care:


  • From the get go - going back to Hippocrates - health and health care delivery have been about the relationships between people starting with the  physician-patient relationship.
  • The most important diagnostic tool a physician has at their disposal is not a smart phone, but their ability to talk with and observe patients' verbal and non-verbal behavior.
  • 'Talk' is not only how physicians diagnose problems and recommend the appropriate treatments. Talk is also how patients are able to engage in the health care.  Perhaps the most overlooked aspect of talk (and touch) during the medical exam is the therapeutic benefits patients derive from being able to express heart-felt fears and concerns to someone who hopefully cares.

The unfulfilled promises of so much of health information technology today (like Electronic Medical Records, Personal Health Records, and Patient Portals), with some notable exceptions like Kaiser, Group Health and the VA, can be traced directly back to developers not understanding that their job is to enable physician-patient relationships, not get in their way or try and replace them.

I don't consider myself a Luddite when it comes to health information technology, nor would I put most physicians in this category.  The health industry is going through massive change, and unfortunately in such time, there are also a lot of false starts and waste that comes from ill conceived HIT solutions.  I suspect that tech vendors who take the time to learn the business that is health care, and commit themselves to improving the physician-patient relationship'will do just fine.

' The Take Away'

The physician-patient relationship remains paramount for us patients. Yes there are problems, yes physicians and patients need to learn to do a better job communicating with one another. But when everything is said and done, when the chips are down, we don't want to be forced to diagnose and treat ourselves.  We want to be able to see and talk with our doctor when we want.  And honoring the patient's perspective after all is what patient-centered care is all about right?

And oh by the way, we still want the convenience of being able to go online to schedule an appointment and check out lab tests.

That's my opinion'what's yours?



More Blog Posts by Stephen Wilkins

author bio

Guest Blogger Stephen Wilkins, MPH, is a former hospital executive, consumer health behavior research and recent care giver. He has witnessed incredible oversights and gaps in physician-patient communications that have had “near catastrophic” consequences for patients like his wife who was diagnosed with Stage 4 Lung Cancer in 2004. He is the co-founder of Health Messaging Inc., which focuses on developing ideas and solutions for improving the quality of communications between physicians and patients. He blogs on Mind The Gap, where this post originally appeared, and you can follow him on twitter at @Healthmessaging.

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Health Information Technology   Stephen Wilkins   Communicate with your Doctors   Inside Healthcare  

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