Just about everyone seems to be online these days. Communication with family and friends via email and social media outlets including Facebook and Twitter, as well as texting appear to be replacing telephone calls and letter writing. We wonder what we may be losing in this shift: is our privacy being compromised? Are these news methods of communicating enhancing the depth of our interactions, or are they just surface? And what happens with our medical care?
Do you email your doctor? Would you want to? In late November, a new survey revealed that patients want digital engagement with their healthcare providers. Fierce Healthcare (11/29/12) reported on a survey that sought to examine types of relationships between patients and providers including how often, and through which channels they prefer to communicate. Called “Engaging the Healthcare Consumer and Improving the Patient Experience,” Varolii and the Patient-Centered Primary Care Collaborative (PCPCC) report that the majority of consumers would embrace mobile interaction, like email and text messages, but few providers are reaching out to patients through these preferred channels. They also mention that patients with chronic conditions, such as diabetes, see the most benefit from being able to communicate with their provider and monitor their heath through mobile channels and smartphone web apps. They recommend that providers pay more attention to smartphone owners who are developing different patterns of engagement than other patients.
What do the doctors think? Does electronic communication compromise patient privacy and patient safety? Are their potential malpractice issues that need to be considered? Is face-to-face doctor/patient time still the gold standard? Would electronic communication be compensated? These questions, and others, need to be discussed and addressed by physician groups, and studies on this model need to be conducted and data analyzed, before we can definitively answer these questions.
Electronic communication is faster, more efficient & less costly. In this era of healthcare reform, both providers and patients are looking for high quality health care at the lowest possible costs and best use of resources. Many times, people head for the emergency department or urgent care when they are suffering from a bad cold or persistent cough. New electronic services, available for a subscription fee, mean that they can interact with the medical provider from the comfort of their homes with a click of a button- as long as they have the right equipment. A computer, webcam and Internet access is all that is needed in most instances.
This method is probably best used for more common, easily treated ailments rather than complex or chronic diseases, but it does represent a new modality of healthcare, and one I think we will definitely be seeing more often!