Technology can be a wonderful thing. We can find the best Thai restaurant in our neighborhood, check traffic and find alternate routes when necessary, and even make a $30,000 jewelry purchase, all within seconds, all from our phones. But sometimes technology overreaches, like it did this year with novelty medicine.
Don't get me wrong: Technology is definitely reshaping the healthcare industry. Amazing advancements are helping doctors to more easily gather comprehensive information on their patients, view data and images in a more efficient way, and better communicate with patients. However, technology can also complicate and (even worse, hinder), patients from receiving excellent care. I'm talking about novelty, "instant diagnosis" apps and web sites.
Novelty healthcare apps took the world by storm in 2014 because we, as a culture, love the "quick hits" and perceived control given to us by these technologies. Who wants to wait in a doctor's office when you can figure out what's wrong with you in seconds from the app on your phone? And every expert is telling us to empower ourselves, so what better way with these exciting new tools?
But, like with anything that seems too easy, there is a catch. Who is delivering this diagnosis: a doctor or a developer? Is the information coming from reliable experts who can offer state-of-the-art care? No.
I'm concerned that these novelty technologies will create a wave of paranoia and bad decisions. People could succumb to the "white coat syndrome," thinking they have a terminal illness when they really just have a cold. Doctors' offices could be completely flooded with people believing they are very sick, or worse their app could tell them there are "fine" when in fact they have a very serious diagnosis.
But I sleep well at night, because I know that as consumers, we love new and novel technologies, but we are also extremely savvy. Our short attention spans work for us because we can embrace something new and exciting quickly, but just as quickly we demand the highest possible quality--and this should be absolutely no different when it comes to healthcare apps, web sites and live doctors.
New and improved technologies like video conferencing, the cloud, and security are helping to usher the healthcare industry into this century. Check out how some of these sincere technologies are fostering better patient care:
Cloud computing: In order to effectively treat patients, doctors need a comprehensive overview of ALL aspects of a patient's health. By keeping medical records and imaging in the cloud, doctors can more easily access patient records with just a browser and log in. Doctors and patients no longer have to spend countless hours tracking down records, contacting previous doctors, hospitals, and insurance providers--all information will reside in the cloud so it can be quickly and easily gathered and reviewed. With a 360 degree view of a patient's health (blood work, exam files, images, etc.), providers can better diagnose and treat their patients.
Asynchronous communication: What a breath of fresh air asynchronous communications has been to an industry that has been held hostage by time and synchronous communication. Up until even a few years ago, the only way you could receive medical advice is if you were meeting with a doctor in person, or making a phone call, but with each of these options timing had to be perfect. And asynchronous communication meant snail mail, sticky notes (remember those?), pagers and faxes--not great options.
Asynchronous communications releases time constraints, allowing physicians and patients to interact at different times, at the convenience of each party. You may be at the gym while a specialist is reviewing your file that was sent by your GP. Email has replaced snail mail, instant messaging and text has replaced pagers, and secure file exchange platforms like Box.com have replaced faxes.
Asynchronous communications means doctors can study patients without them having to be in the room or on the phone. It broadens treatment time, and allows doctors to focus on the facts when they can truly concentrate and are not distracted by other patients, nurses and more.
Precision Medicine: We aren't quite there yet, but we need to understand the scientific links between clinical data and genomics data, and then make a diagnosis and treatment plan. We need to keep on top of the data during treatment, understand how the patient is responding, and then make informed decisions based on that information.
Precision medicine is the process of diagnosing and treating illnesses based on individuals' genetic make-up. This particular type of "little or individual data"--specific and comprehensive aspects about an individual's health ranging from molecular make-up to diagnosed illnesses--will allow physicians to practice precision medicine for more efficient diagnosis and treatment strategy. In fact, practices working with individual data may be able to prepare to treat you before you even walk in the door.
I know some people really like their novelty healthcare apps and won't dump them just because I said so. If you use them, use them wisely--don't bet your life on them, bet it on the people who know best. There's a reason we don't have computers taking care of patients. Doctors spend years and even decades in school because they need to be able to understand, interpret and analyze various types of data such as patients' physical exams and lab work. Two hundred characters can't do that.