The changing face of the doctor-patient encounter

Traditionally, patients would wait for the doctors, listen to the advice given and literally be at the mercy of the attending doctors. These dynamics have changed over the years as information becomes more freely available and the modes of communication have drastically improved through technology. It has shifted the axis of power, increasingly favouring the patient.

Patients can now engage their doctors through different mediums. Some even communicate via social media, although there are reservations to this mode. It will be inevitable in this era that patients will attempt to reach their doctors, be it Whatsapp, Facebook or Twitter. It is almost difficult for doctors not to leave a digital imprint on the internet, for which patients can source out particular information.

Patients are also taking a more central role in making decisions. Information is now at everyone’s fingertips and no longer the domain exclusive to doctors. Thus, communicating with the patient in a 2 way conversation is vital. Incorporating the opinions and insights from the patient is key to a cordial relationship and successful treatment outcomes.

The tasks during this encounter has also increased exponentially for doctors. They are now presented with more data, be it the expanding knowledge in medicine to the more complex monitoring of patients. Deciphering and understanding this data can be overwhelming for many. The increasing complexity of EMR and HIS systems have also burdened many doctors as they grab some precious attention of the doctors during a time where the focus should be on the patient.

Thus, the doctor-patient encounter has to change with the introduction of technology and the explosion of information and medical knowledge. The approach to the patient may have to change as the patients themselves have changed. Managing new expectations will require perhaps a different resolve. Training of medical students and specialists will have to evolve.

As with the banking, airline or even the taxi industry, technology has revolutionised the way things are done. The ability to analyse large chunks of data and make proper sense of it can be the difference between success and failure. The increasing intelligence of digital systems is important to assist humans in maneuvering through the expanding digital metropolis.

Doctors must accept new challenges in this digital era. Refusal to entertain small shifts in the landscape of healthcare will only put them at a disadvantage and render them obsolete. Change will happen and is happening.

by Dr Benjamin Cheah

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