America / Healthcare / Politics / Technology

Patient Physician Communication: Where does the future of doctor visits lie?

Today, technology seems to be involved and assist in every aspect of human life. Very few realms of society lack total involvement in new technologies that optimize or create more efficient models for everyday life and industry. Most methods of communication utilize technological platforms to reach broader audiences and improve global connectivity. Health care, while having made many advances in technology—lasers, surgical tools, and health analyses mechanisms—has developed few tools to assist a main component of care: communication between the provider and patient.

Interestingly, a recent study from Harvard University and Johns Hopkins School of Public Health revealed that patients are increasingly attracted to other forms of communication than simply doctor visits. “A sample of 4,510 CVS customers with at least one chronic condition in the household was used to target patients with chronic conditions and their caregivers… Survey measures included demographic and health information, patient use of email and Facebook to contact physicians, and patient interest in and use of Web-based tools for health.” Uniquely, this study attempted to uncover the best methodologies for patient-physician communication outside the clinical setting. Patients want to understand things like, the impact of lifestyle habits, to identify symptomatology at onset and to know the side effects of prescription drugs prior to consumption. This education process rarely can occur in a time sensitive, physician office visit. The development of web platforms such as WebMD and other medical advice companies reveal the need for a conduit between patients and this wealth of medical knowledge. Traditionally, doctors provided this role in health care to patients over a lifetime of annual check-ups and gained knowledge by tracking medical health records. Today, larger amounts of patients make it difficult for physicians to maintain a personal connection with patients throughout a lifetime. Additionally, modern patients expect consumer oriented care.

Many other studies have evaluated patient-physician communication and their association to health outcomes. In fact, “most of the studies reviewed demonstrated a correlation between effective physician-patient communication and improved patient health outcomes.” The need for clearer routes of shared communication between a patient and physician is clear. Moreover, there is a lack in continuity of care for complex scenarios involving transferring patients from primary care physicians to specialists. Patients struggle to coordinate these experiences effectively and ineffective communication can directly impact the quality of care delivered. The inability to share important information seems alarming with the plethora of tools for communication at most individual’s fingertips. Instead, other media forms influence patient’s perception in regard to certain treatments or drugs because of the medical industry’s reluctance to integrate communication technologies into their patient experience. Some evidence reveals that improving communication is personally important for physicians.

In the early 2000s, researcher Wendy Levinson attempted to study the patient-physician relationship and the effect of consultation methodology on malpractice lawsuits. The patient-physician conversation is often clue laden and provides opportunities for the physician to reveal empathy to their patient. This interaction is the basis for the clinical alliance that is built on trust between providers and patients. Ultimately, Levinson concludes that, “‘Surgeons’ tone of voice in routine visits is associated with malpractice claims history. This is the first study to show clear associations between communication and malpractice in surgeons.” Patients respond directly to the attitude and tone of their surgeon. Interestingly, further research is supporting claims that communication methodologies can greatly impact the patient experience. Can technology help serve as a conduit for physicians attempting to relate with patients? Will patients actually feel better if they communicate more effectively with their doctor?

It appears these questions will be answered over the coming years. Patients are clearly open to advanced and innovative forms of communication. Doctors provide sufficient and effective services; yet, their model must evolve with new technologies for a growing modernized populous. Patients expect their physician to relate in certain ways that directly impacts their experience and therefore their willingness to file for a lawsuit.  A 2014 report reveals, “In line with data from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, which found that 85 percent of U.S. adults used the Internet and that 61 percent looked for health information online, our study results indicate substantial patient interest in using online tools to manage their health and communicate with physicians.” The marketplace and consumers are prepared for an alteration to the model, but are the providers? Health providers encounter communication failures everyday, it is their responsibility to adapt and resolve these problems. What technologies can help fill the void in the patient physician relationship? Nevertheless, it appears to be wise for doctors to spend extra time in the office with every patient.


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