It may seem like a strange question. To be honest, it’s not my question at all – although I am curious about the subject. The question was posed recently in a blog post by Dr. Bryan Vartabedian. Given all the changes we are witnessing in the way patients access health information, it is a question worthy of contemplation.
In his blog post titled, “Will the Future Need Doctors?” Dr. Vartabedian, a pediatric gastroenterologist and terrific blogger (33 Charts), posits that “social and technological forces are conspiring to make the traditional role of the doctor irrelevant.” Without a doubt he offers an interesting perspective. I will add that Dr. Vartabedian’s post is incredibly well written and his thinking is visionary. My hope in writing this post is simply to call attention to and direct you to his work. If you check out the original post on 33 Charts, be sure to read the comments that follow the post. There’s a lot of value in the conversation that takes place within the comments section. A number of physicians commented on Dr. Vartabedian’s post.
His argument is that with technology becoming more precise as a medical tool and more informative as an encyclopedic healthcare resource for patients seeking advice and opinions, it’s new uses are making older medical tools and practices seem vintage and obsolete while shifting the power of persuasion and authority, once held solely by physicians, to online health info sites. In large part because of the Internet, health information now finds patients, changing the nature of their relationship with the physician.
Dr. Vartabedian gives examples of the change that is taking place due to the growing role of technology: “The importance of the physical exam is changing. A child presenting to an ER with abdominal pain may be imaged by CT before ever being touched by a doctor. The physical exam was critical when it was all we had. We’re becoming dependent upon accessible technology and precise forms of diagnosis.” Likewise, a patient may consult a social media site regarding a specific health condition or set of symptoms, receive all the information they desire, listen to the accounts of others and receive their advice, all before they ever seek a physician’s opinion. This is happening thousands of times every day.
“Information is the new 3rd party in the exam room.” The statement is so obvious but I had never thought of it in exactly those terms. According to Dr. Vartabedian, “The social web has created a type of disintermediation. And the physician encounter is evolving as a more narrowly defined element in an individual’s quest to understand their condition and get better.”
What does all of this mean for the future of the physician? Well, Dr. Vartabedian says “doctors won’t be replaced, but radically redefined” by patients’ relationship and interaction with technology. One of Dr. Vartabedian’s predictions is that the physician and the patient will grow more distant. But, there’ a silver lining. Dr. Vartabedian believes that the ascendance of the machines may well lead physicians to rediscover (or discover) what it means to connect in uniquely human ways. Imagine technology leading to greater humanity in healthcare. And the reality is, patients will continue to need physicians to translate and interpret what the machines have to say, serving as the intermediary between human beings and technology. It will be interesting to see how this unfolds over the next two or three decades.
What do you think? How do you see the role of the physician changing in the years to come?
To read Dr. Vartabedian’s original post, click here.
(Post written by Dan Dunlop with Charles Ramsey. Charles is a healthcare marketing intern at Jennings and a student at Wake Forest University. He’s learning a lot about healthcare this summer as he researches topics for blog posts.)