Digital Springtime

       Spring is here and that brings thoughts of blooming plants and warmth, growth and

Spring Monet

Spring by Claude Monet

regeneration.  Everyone tends to revere spring, things are new and the cold dark winter is ending.  For me the winter coincided with a a rather trying period of time in my real day job.  While I love writing and blogging and learning everything I can about Digital and Connected Health, my day job doesn’t really involve a significant amount of that field.  Recently there have been numerous work priorities that involved a significant amount of my time and what time was left I dedicated to my family.  So my site here has been sitting fallow for a little while.

       By thinking about what topics to cover next, I found myself asking the question, Do I really even care about Digital and Connected Health?  Is it that Digital Health can fundamentally change the landscape of healthcare or am I seduced by the luster of technology?  Am I sucker taken in by the shiniest new objects in medicine?
       The truth is I don’t think there is a technological solution to every problem and that is especially true for medicine.  Technology in medicine does circumvent the modern behemoth that the American healthcare system is can speak directly to the people seeking care, our patients.  What I am most passionate about is Access to Medical Care and Patient Empowerment.  That is where our current system has failed and where Digital and Connected Health can lead.
       We now work as Physicians and Advanced Practitioners and we are patients in a system that is built on the infallibility of Physician.  It is a “Just Trust Me” model.  Do what I say and things will be fine.  For a myriad of factors that system is just not tolerated any longer but most people still have to seek care from his system.  Patients have to navigate this system as best they can.  Right now though patients want more control, more information and to take charge of their healthcare journey.  They want to make their own choices.
       The burden of paying for healthcare has been shifting towards the patient as well.  They are shouldering the cost of the care they receive and want a greater voice in how they use it.  Some people choose to exert control by not seeking care at all, eliminating interaction with a system that bypasses their wishes and is often unaffordable.  Others may seek alternative healers than the traditional modern doctor, who offer simpler options for patients to take more control.
       What limits patient access and empowerment today?  What about just asking your physician a question without an appointment?  Most people would laugh even at the thought.  It is not that as physicians we do not want to discuss important matters with you but often times we just can not find the time.  After a long day in my practice, a full day being 20-24 patients, reviewing lab results, refills medications and then actually charting and billing for visits there just isn’t a spare moment to eat lunch, let alone have conversations over the phone.  It may have a huge impact on a patient to talk through a medical issue, but spending 10-15 minutes of uncompensated time just isn’t viable for most physicians on a daily basis.
       What about being able to actually come into the office to have an appointment?  Most Physicians are booked out for weeks.  Many doctors wear that as a badge of honor and their administrators like to see that demand.  What happens to that patient that needs to be seen today, who needs advice and care and the biggest impact for positive change is today?  Will the impact of the message about their health be the same in 3 weeks?  Where else will they turn for information and care?  What about refills for chronic conditions that are vital for longevity but as a healthcare system we determine that you need to come into our office, our space, follow our rules just to keep you blood pressure in good range?  Hard to take a day off from work? Sorry we don’t see patients after 4pm.  We don’t open on Saturday.  Holidays?  You must be joking.
       Digital and Connected Health can be the flexible solution patients need.  They can take charge of their own health with newer tools that empower them and work outside the current unofficial rules just discussed.  Can’t get into your physicians office for weeks?  Well there is a telemedicine group ready to take your video call right now.  You can choose the time and you can do it from your desk at work over lunch or at home on your couch after your shift at work.
       Do you need a refill on birth control but it has been a year since your last PCP visit?  Well, you could wait another couple weeks or use an app on your phone to connect with clinicians who can review your history and prescribe the medication you need.  On your time and your direction.
       Those medical questions you have, the resources are endless.  It is almost cliche to refer to “Dr Google” but who doesn’t use a search engine to find necessary information before making any decision?  You can spend hours researching the car you want to buy before ever having to set foot in a dealership.  Between WebMD, Mayo Clinic, Patients Like Me and numerous other medical sites, finding detailed and relevant information has never been easier.  (Check out this post.)  No one has to wait for their physicians medical assistant to call back and relay a generic message.  No waiting for an appointment.
       Our current Healthcare System does not have the needed incentives for all parties and enough inertia to provide the broad access to care and empowerment of patients that we need to have an impact.  Digital and Connected Health provides everyone with an option that can empower everyone to access the care they need when they need it.