Explore information technology and safely digitize medicine

We have an intuitive sense of what is meant by those urging medicine to “go digital.” It seems to refer to modernizing, becoming more flexible, and basically following the path of modern computing and information technology.

Is it useful to think more rigorously than this hazy conception, without necessarily reading a special report from The Economist?

Digital information is special because it can be transmitted to and instantiated within any number of devices that are now cheap and portable. The information is can be located at several places at once, and can travel instantly and cheaply. Lord Harold Samuel was talking about more than property when he said “The three things that matter in property: Location, location, location.”

It’s a truism that modern medicine is largely a testament to the power of knowledge. As we say at SUNY Upstate, “Knowing changes everything.” Indeed, patients seek doctors because of their expertise, knowing full well that the pharmacist can find the drug, the nurse practitioner can deliver the shot, and even a physician’s assistant can perform surgeries, as long as someone is around who KNOWS what’s going on.

Once that knowledge leaves that physicians head, it empowers more an more people to help the patient. Most importantly, it helps the patient help themselves. The more places medical knowledge can be, the more powerful it can be, and the healthier we can be. Thomas Goetz, in his book The Decision Tree: Taking Control of Your Health in the New Era of Personalized MedicineExplore information technology and safely digitize medicine, is not the only person urging doctors to repeat themselves, so that the knowledge stays with the patient longer. Requests for medicine to “go digital” need to be heard not as nagging demands from petulant or arrogant technophiles, but pleas for doctors to maximize the rigors of their training.

Naturally, there are risks to disseminated information. For sure, the patient armed with a dossier of internet factoids presents more problems than solutions. But this is precisely why doctors must take an active role in developing ways to disseminate and manage information safely. As the generators and stewards of this knowledge, doctors are uniquely suited to mediating the virtually ubiquitous potential influence of their knowledge. The temptation exists to hide behind a duty to privacy, and to defend this in the sacred language of the doctor-patient relationship and the art of medicine.

I believe it is particularly incumbent on medical students to explore developments in the use of information technology to safely digitize medicine, and a modern medical education would be lacking without helping emerging doctors to “go digital.”

Aaron J. Stupple is a medical student who blogs at Adjacent Possible Medicine.

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  • http://thepoordiabetic.com/ Ronnie the poor diabetic

    “For sure, the patient armed with a dossier of internet factoids presents more problems than solutions.” with no other alternative one is left but to gather information on the internet. what matter is the credibility of the source and the digestion by the end user.
    As a diabetic, I have semi annual visits with my endo, but for someone who lives with diabetes understands, issue frequently arise that are deemed not to be medical emergencies, I have no choice when such issues arise to consult with fellow members of the diabetic online community since they have a unique perspective on the issue before making a uniformed decision since this is the only choice I have, short of getting my endo on the phone (near impossibility) or waiting months later.
    I agree digitizing medical information will cause one major shift if nothing else and that is empower the patient which is not such a bad thing.

  • gzuckier

    We have an intuitive sense of what is meant by those urging medicine to “go digital.”

    Ummmm….. this could be misinterpreted…..