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Healthcare Tech Revolution Means Doctors as Coaches for Empowered Patients

I saw an interesting post on LinkedIn today. Dr Saif Abed posted that Health IT vendors should concentrate their resources on clinician’s needs, rather than on patient tools.

The core of Dr Abed’s piece is summed up by a sentence he actually writes within the comments section below the article; As such, they (doctors) should be the prioritised target stakeholders for healthcare technology vendors to engage.”

This is a very common viewpoint among doctors, and I totally get it. After all, Doctors have been the key connector between patients and the modern healthcare system for well over 100 years.

But I think we are actually witnessing something much deeper than ideal stakeholder analysis.

Rather than working out which pieces should go where on the healthcare chessboard, the entire chessboard itself is undergoing a radical transformation in dimensions, as powerful and transforming as when allopathic medicine became the accepted way of practicing healthcare during the 19th Century.

We are observing in healthcare the natural tension that occurs in any industry when technology allows previously disempowered stakeholders to access key data. In healthcare’s case, many engaged patients and caregivers have always had their own workflow in addition to their various clinicians’ workflow. This is particularly the case when the patient has a complex long-term condition and it is known from personal experience and extensive study on their condition over many years what happens to them when something changes in their regimen – whether that be a drug, procedure or lifestyle change or life event.

Powerful technology in everyone’s pocket turns the traditional 2D chessboard of doctor-patient relationships (“Go to doctors’ office, get diagnosis and treatment, then hopefully stick to it and get desired outcome. Rinse and repeat”) to instead be a 3-D cube that enables all data to be placed and viewed in context around the patient, under their ownership and control, and have it follow them around. This includes not just clinical data, but just as crucially lifestyle data, psycho-social data, environmental data, and now genetic data – from all sources, not just the clinical system used at the doctor’s office. As always, if technology enables something new and useful to happen that was previously impossible, then society in time adopts it. We are observing that technology tipping point right now in patient empowerment with respect to their all of their health data. Clinical data only makes sense when viewed in context within the complete patient story. I would posit that it is only an empowered patient or caregiver who is able to provide a complete patient story through collation and presentation of personal health workflow.

Over time we will see the merging of personal workflow and clinician workflow in healthcare, but right now we are in the sticky cross-over period where both sets of workflow are not integrated.

My own belief is that as the number of empowered and knowledgeable patients grows, it will be more conducive for both parties in those relationships for clinicians to play the role of a coach, rather than a director.

We are living in interesting times!

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