Redefining Under Doctor's Care

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It has taken awhile, but traditional healthcare is going high-tech. Doctors are seeing patients through remote offices, getting vital signs and gathering other health data through new online capabilities. They are using new software programs and online data to make diagnoses without ever seeing a patient in person. Medical websites like are a wealth of information about symptoms and diseases, and both traditional and non-traditional therapies. 


In an article in Forbes, “Four Reasons Why Doctors Worry About Social Media--#Get Over It,” author David Shaywitz recounts his experience at a medical conference where practicing physicians shared their concern about social media and the wealth of information available online. The Internet can offer medical information without the strict credentialing and licensing doctors have to undergo to dispense advice and treat patients. What concerned these physicians was information that affected both doctors and patients. 


Just like shoppers who spend time researching a purchase on the Internet before buying, people spend a lot of time researching illnesses and symptoms before going to the doctor. Doctors found that many people were getting bad information from the Internet. For example, 25 percent of Google searches for headaches discussed brain tumors. If a person researched only those websites, she may be led to believe a brain tumor was the cause of her headache without ever seeing a physician. Patients who do see a doctor after receiving bad or inaccurate information from the Internet are tough to convince otherwise. Internet sources that associate themselves with well-known hospitals or even TV medical personalities can trump the advice of a person’s personal physician. Doctors spend a lot of time trying to counteract bad advice.


Social media has given everyone a strong voice and a global audience. Patients with incorrect information can share that incorrect information fast with a blog, Tweet, or by joining an online group. Hotels or retailers aren’t the only targets of online review sites. An unhappy patient, or one who isn’t satisfied with a doctor’s diagnosis or treatment, can go online and post comments on any number of websites, and undermine a physician’s credibility or even ruin a reputation.


Another concern was one of engagement. With the stress and intensity of medical school, internships and residencies, medical students can’t afford to lose focus. Missing critical information or observations can be a matter of life and death. The constant obsession with the smartphone has caused some teaching hospitals to ban cell phones altogether. Too many interns and residents were distracted, posting tweets or status updates or just checking emails when they should have been paying attention on rounds or dealing with patients. 


Healthcare is a personal business, yet many younger and tech-savvy older physicians are using texting in place of face-to-face conversations or even phone calls. Social media and digital communication don’t have the warmth or feelings of voice tone or facial expression. There is something about conversing in close contact with another person that even Skype or Facetime can’t duplicate.


The last concern was using the speed and convenience of the Internet and social media instead of time-tested, more reliable research methods for medical research. Protocols, procedures and requirements for data gathering, testing and conducting medical studies are complicated and time-consuming for a reason. It may be faster to conduct a survey online or gather data from a variety of internet sources instead of a more painstaking process. But what about the quality of the data and the reliability of the outcome of the research? 


Transitioning to high-tech and the use of social media in the medical field has its positives and negatives, just like any other industry. Most industries are feeling the stress of change. The wheels are in motion, and there is no turning back. To even try would be to deny the tremendous value social media and technology has in freeing doctors from the tedious practices of the past so they can focus more on what they do best—caring for patients.


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