The Digital Future of Doctors
There is no way around the fact that the cyber universe has intersected with medicine and health care – in more ways than one. Like everything in life, there are pros and cons to the digital future of medicine. Here are several ways that the digital doctor will be operating in patient care in the future.
One of the first areas of medicine affected by computers and the Internet has been the medical records industry. By digitalizing patient records, doctors, hospitals and other medical providers have reduced paperwork and staff time for recordkeeping, while greatly increasing doctors’ access to patients’ medical histories.
Now, recordkeeping databases are getting even more sophisticated and interlinked. According to Columbia University, the New York Presbyterian Hospital is the first in the nation to implement the most complex patient recordkeeping system to date: one that is vastly more detailed than the Electronic Health Record, or EHR, systems of the past.
Presbyterian Hospital’s new iNYP database expands physician access to patient records across multiple vendor databases, reaching back into records from the 1980s. Admission records, lab reports and health provider notes are only some of the individual patient statistics that are now available to doctors in seconds on laptops, iPhones and other devises from multiple record sources.
Diagnosis is another area where the Internet and computers are making big inroads into the working world of physicians. In the past, doctors relied on their personal experience, medical training, textbooks and personal conversations with other medical providers when diagnosing a patient.
A recent article in the New York Times describes how young doctors, and old ones as well, are now turning to electronic databases of symptoms, case histories and crowdsourced professional opinions at online services like MedCalc, using their iPhones for assistance in determining a diagnosis.
Patients are also increasingly using wearable apps that monitor and relay information directly to their doctors, reporting on vital signs such as blood pressure, blood sugar and heart function, hopefully alerting the doctor of potential problems before they happen. Increasingly, both doctors and patients use email and file sharing for communicating with one another, as well.
Many patients are also using the Internet for self-diagnosis and education about an existing or suspected condition. While this has resulted in the joke diagnosis of ‘cyberchondria’, patients are also experiencing an increased sense of personal control and involvement in their health care using these digital medical resources.
Not everyone is equally enthusiastic about all the digital developments in health care, however. A new book by Robert Wachter, MD, The Digital Doctor: Hope, Hype and Harm in Medicine’s Computer Age, delves into the troublesome sides of digital doctoring.
Erosion of interpersonal contact, a reduction of human supervision and a tendency of doctors to trust technology over their own senses and intuition are some of the unwanted side-effects of the digitalization of health care reported in the book.
No doubt, the digitally connected doctors and patients of the future will have both expanded resources and opportunities for better care and health, along with new challenges and obstacles to both.