This past Friday, I made the daring decision to pass on Molecular Biology and Histology Lab to attend the Medicine 2.0 Conference here at Stanford University. Heaven forbid my required courses get in the way of my actual education! This turned out to be a great call on my part as I was exposed to a new and exciting world that is guaranteed to change the way medical care is delivered, perceived, and practiced from this point forward. In a perpetual attempt to ride the wave rather than getting trampled by it, I experienced and sampled some of the latest social media and mobile computing technologies that are sparking changes in patient-caregiver relationships.
For those of us who constantly feel behind the times of technological innovation, myself included, let’s briefly back track to make sure that we are all up to speed. Medicine 2.0 is closely related subset of Health 2.0, which refers to the almost limitless possibilities encompassed by the integration of health care, eHealth andWeb 2.0. A site that is described as Web 2.0 is one that allows users to interact and collaborate with each other in a digital community in which the users generate the content—a social networking site, blogs, and wikis to name a few examples. According to perhaps the most useful reference Web 2.0 site of all—Wikepedia—a more technical definition of Health 2.0 is “use of a specific set of Web tools (blogs,Podcasts, tagging, search, wikis, etc) by actors in health care including doctors, patients, and scientists, using principles of open source and generation of content by users, and the power of networks in order to personalize health care, collaborate, and promote health education.”
The Stanford Summit, which preceded the academic portion of the Medicine 2.0conference, took advantage of Stanford’s location in the heart of Silicon Valley to gather luminary thinkers and innovators to discuss the application of social media tothe field of medicine in a TED-like format. Speakers included Jay Parkinson, the doctor famous for offering house calls through the internet, Sue Swanson of Seattle Children’s Hospital who explained how social media can help build a trusted relationship between doctors and their patients, and executives from health-oriented software applications like Epocrates and Quora. Google presented on its interesting Flu Trends Project, which correlates data from searchqueries of flu symptoms to monitor flu trends and identify initial outbreaks across the globe. Throughout the day, there were also demos of JiffPad, an innovative I-Pad app for enhancing medical education and communication, and Striiv, an amazingly addictive pedometer device that links activity measures like walking and stair climbing to motivational fitness goals, online gaming, and charitable causes. Most important of all however was the voice of the networked ePatient, as represented by those like Amy Tenderich who started a website for people living with diabetes and Howard Rheingold, the social media pioneer who shared how social media helped him during his battle with cancer. This fascinating array of speakers drew a very diverse crowdand enabled physicians and health researchers to network with software developers, venture capitalists, public funding agencies, Silicon Valley executives, and patients who have pioneered web-centered medical care and support groups.
The critical theme that I took from the conference was that patients themselves are at the center of the health care system, and thus, should have greater insight and control of the information generated about them. Of course, this seems to conflict with the traditional model of medicine with the physician at the center who acts as gatekeeper to the patient’s information, divulging information to the patient when it is deemed necessary and appropriate. While this may work in acute care settings in which care is focused on treating one particular malady, the system breaks down in the case of complex, chronic illnesses, psychiatric disorders, or complex disease processes. In such cases, which are the clear majority in medical care today, the patient is at risk of being left without well-coordinated care because data has been jumbled and stored with a variety of providers who are not in communication with each other. The patient must therefore be his or her own advocate. In many respects, this is a positive development in the sense that the information gap between patient and provider is closing. It is increasingly rare to encounter a patient today who has not searched the web and read literature about his or her condition before seeing a physician. The number of reputable medical information websites is steadily growing, and the proactive patient is doing his or her part to help incoordinating care.
It is the medical community that now faces the challenge of catching up to meet the patient halfway (at the very least). Physicians must take the difficult, yet necessary steps to relinquish some measure of autonomy by accepting and ultimately embracing the patient as an equal partner in care giving process. To do this, physicians must make the effort to learn these new technologies such that they are appropriately networked with each other and with their patients. The coordinated use and maintenance of electronic medical records by both patientand provider would enable the patient to take a more proactive role in making appointments, communicating with other patients in similar situations, comparing providers, anticipating potential diagnoses an complications, submitting more data for current treatment and future research, tracking health outcomes, staying abreast of the latest information, and ultimately, understanding his or her medical condition. For the average physician, who is perpetually inundated with information and strained for time to process it, this picture of the networked patient should come as a welcome opportunity to share the workload in an equitable partnership. And of course, improved coordination of medical care spells greater efficiency and effectiveness, both of which combine to reduce health care costs.
After attending Medicine 2.0, I believe that it is possible to maintain the sanctity and purity of the patient-doctor relationship while adapting this timeless theme to modern realities. Social media technologies, if used appropriately, can empower patients to guide their own health care, assist physicians in streamlining workload while improving patient outcomes, and ultimately help to build a more efficient and effective health care system