William J. Mayo once famously quoted that “The best interest of the patient is the only
interest to be considered“. Nearly a century later, is this quote still valid or have we
deviated from this high ideal?
The first clue to the answer comes from the fact that in today’s world doctors have only about 15 minutes to discuss with the patients about his/her complaints before they need to start making their minds. To put it in context, will you make an investment decision or a house purchase decision or even decide the educational institute for your kid in 15 minutes? To be fair to the doctors, most of the patients come with routine issues which are related to seasonal illnesses or with symptoms which are obvious, but still there are significant number of people who are at the risk of life and death decisions related to them being made in 15 minutes by a doctor.
Of course, there are many reasons for this situation. First of all, the ratio of doctors to population in most parts of the world is ridiculously low. Secondly, most of the healthcare institutions today work on a Volume based financial model. So to sustain this model, then need to have an increased footfall of the patients in the hospital. That means the amount of time that can be devoted per patient keeps reducing. Thirdly, with more and more regulations, the amount of paperwork that doctors and others in the healthcare industry has steadily increased. In fact, paperwork is the single biggest stress factors for most healthcare practitioners today.
To make things more complicated, the amount of research being done in the medical industry is increasing exponentially. As per the latest statistic, the amount of knowledge within healthcare gets doubled every 2 years and by the turn of the decade it would be doubling every 70 odd days. Imagine the amount of reading that the doctors need to do to keep pace with technology.
The next clue lies in the debate about who owns the patient data and the endless debates surrounding privacy of the patient data. But surely, the patient data belongs to the patient doesn’t it and it is patient’s right to either protect it or give away, isn’t it? Apparently, things are not so simple. For a long time, healthcare institutions thought they own the patient data as they acquired it. Then the governments started stepping in putting in
restrictions on the use of the patient data.
Some of these questions are philosophical and to some extent political, but IT could help the healthcare industry in answering quite a few of these and bring the focus back on the patient. At HIMSS 2017, this question seems to be at the center of most of the seminars and offerings from vendors. On the one hand, Cognitive Intelligence and use of technologies such as Watson is being pushed by IBM to try and help the doctors cope with ever increasing knowledge in the healthcare industry.
On the other hand, companies are offering more and more services to help automate the paperwork and make the hospitals as paperless as possible. Then there are companies such as EPIC which are offering services to consolidate the data that exists across many data sources into a single source or at least to enable some level data sharing across the resources. This is the first step in enabling services such as empowerment of local healthcare institutions to take care of patients under the guidance of specialists from bigger institutions.
Of course, these are only the initial steps in putting the Patient back in the center of the healthcare universe. Let’s hope the greatest minds in IT and Health can make this vision into reality.