With the advent of wearable technology and health trackers, along with social media and the power of Google, many patients are turning to personal investigation to check out their personal health symptons and conditions online using Google, Bing, Yahoo and others. This marks the evolution of the e-patient.
US cancer sufferer and blogger Dave de Bronkart whose moniker is ‘e-patient Dave’, originally rose to prominence in 2009 and recently spoke at the Intersystems joined-up healthcare event in the US to advocate greater openness in the worldwide healthcare community between patient and the doctor as the patient seeks to know more.
Patients are able to access their digital health records (though relatively few do – 0.4% of GP patients thus far in the UK) and by doing so are best placed to identify any errors in separately held records across service providers and regions. With access to online services, cost savings for booking appointments online, obtaining referrals, and even doctors using wifi to track patient flow through a hospital, this creates massive savings for primary care providers and hospital trusts.
The mainly holistic but equally powerful change however comes through the doctor being open to suggestion from the patient during consultations, as a result of today’s vast wealth of data available online. This offers patients access to research resources which can supplement practioner’s knowledge as well as reinforce or challenge, which should not be written off. As e-patient Dave argues, this should bring doctor and patient closer together but could be seen by some GPs as a threat. The patient should be welcomed in bringing their own healthcare research and knowledge to the table. By being open to this he argues, it increases interaction and creates a more educated dialogue, involving better informed questions and greater degree of insight whether a good or bad prognosis. This ultimately provides the opportunity for perceived delivery of a greater level of personal care through proper and open consultation.
These are concepts advocated by UK health minister Jeremy Hunt, who as the NHS seeks to go paperless by 2018, has tasked Martha Lane Fox with putting together a proposal on increasing the uptake of digital innovation in the NHS. This will no doubt include proposals to involve greater use of social media or webex consultations, other than the existing social media use of just inviting views or questions by the healthcare organisations which a number have already undertaken. With the higher motive of saving billions of pounds, there is nonetheless an argument that greater empowerment and enablement will assist trusts as they seek to save money bluntly through technology on the one hand and enable the patient to be more involved in their own care and outcomes. Just keep a weather eye on the critical issue of the handling of patient data and privacy as this direction evolves.