Use technology to build trust with your patients

Trust: A firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something.

Technology, technology, technology.

It is all we hear.


Let’s change the focus from “technology” to the useful and meaningful processes that technology enables:

  • knowledge
  • sharing
  • communication
  • trust

Technology is only an enabler, much like the social graph. They are tools, they are platforms, and if properly utilized, they may enable “disruption” or transformation. It is the few individuals, and I do mean a few, who know how to utilize these tools and platforms. They are pushing the envelope, producing meaningful, robust change — and gaining the trust of their “followers” along the way.

If patients don’t remember 75% of what a doctor tells them, is a pair of glasses going to change that?

If you are not engaged in shared decision-making, a process which has been proven to lead to “better” choices to suit needs, desires, and lifestyle — is an app going to change that?

The persistent, pervasive, sad realities of our healthcare system

  • Patients are rarely placed in the center of the care episode.
  • Communication among most providers and patients is poor, at best.
  • Comprehension, and retention of information is poor, at best.
  • Healthcare literacy is rarely taken into account when an important discussion takes place.
  • Physicians are now an employed commodity, and may not be in the same practice when you return.

But what it means to be human and innately social has not changed.

At its heart, digital media is about people, it is about relationships, and it is about communication — and trust!

We now live in a collaborative economy enabled by the democratization of information, a social graph that enables sharing, and we have witnessed how “disruptive” the power of pull can be.

When patients search for and find information they deem useful, the author of that information becomes a trusted resource.

When patients can reach out to a provider in a time of need — via a platform or technology they are comfortable with — a trusting relationship emerges.

When patients know their values, desires, goals, and lifestyle have been considered in the decision-making process, they trust the provider who has assisted them throughout the process.

The healthcare system we have lived with for decades was founded on the principle of authority. The doctor spoke, the patient listened.

This doesn’t work very well.

The democratization of information, and the platforms that enable knowledge sharing have all started to level the playing field.  The patient is becoming part of the team — their care team. They are being armed with knowledge (content), data (access to their EMR) and an empowered voice. Are you listening?

Meaningful engagement means to inform, engage, empower, partner with, and support — the patient.

Use technology to build trust with your patients

According to the National eHealth Collaborative, 96% of stakeholders say they strongly agree that engaging consumers in their care is critical to transformation. The transformation needs trusted providers.

Are you a trusted provider?  Is that at risk as our healthcare landscape evolves? I propose that it is. I for one do not plan on being a commodity.  I am a physician, a brand, and an educator,  and my “global” practice is mobile and serving the needs of all in search of information.

Howard Luks is an orthopedic surgeon who blogs at his self-titled site, Howard J. Luks, MD.

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  • Margalit Gur-Arie

    Certainly, technology can help with communications of all types and communication can help with building trust. However, is “trust” the problem here? As far as I can tell, in every published survey, patients indicate a rather high level of trust in their doctors, with or without technology. Our health care problems do not stem from lack of “trust”.

    Could it be that there is actually too much trust? The principle of authority, which I think is more a principle of ethical expertise, is predicated on trust.
    Are we saying that as the system is “transformed” from a patient/doctor set of inherently trusted relationships, to one of consumer/provider relationships, both ethics and expertise cannot be assumed any longer, thus caveat emptor is now the rule?

    • Ron Smith

      Hmmm. Hi, Margalit. So good to hear from you as always. I don’t think I agree though. I think Howard’s post is correct. As I’m a 30 year Pediatric veteran and a database developer for that long also whose office if on the bleeding edge of high technology, I find that patients are drawn the high tech, but then founded in the relationship that we have.

      My mobile office consists of an 11-inch MacBook Air, an iPhone 5, an iPad Mini, and a Verizon MIFI. This technology allows me to be accessed by email and get the information I need from my self-developed EMR, I prefer patients to send me email because it does not require an immediate response as does a text message from the answering service, and it allows them to give me information I would never have been able to get before… images.

      The response to my sending back an email saying what I think is the problem, and here’s what we should do about it, and especially the ‘I’m faxing in this medication to the pharmacy’ is not unique. But when they respond with ‘I love this practice’ I know its because they have not only had a great access experience, they have again been treated to the fact that not only do I care, but that I want to do something that is often not even a second thought in offices where they previously went.

      I want to give the best care that I can (but don’t we all say that). I want to keep them out of the urgent care or ER if at all possible (there is no better or cheaper care that I can give them that what they will receive during regular office hours from the team at my office). I also don’t want them to have to come to the office if they don’t need to (I tell them I like them, but..). And finally, I plan ahead. We have the ability to mark records in a way that puts them in my nurse triage’s cue on a specific date for that reason.

      But the most important thing I think, is that my face is not stuck in the laptop during the exam. We schedule all patients, even those that we have to work in. I strive to give the parents and patients my undivided attention in the office. I listen. The kids like it when I’m silly funny, but the parents like it when they know they have my ear just like if I were listening to my own daughter with the grands.

      My patients trust me because of me. Technology, I have come to think, will make bad doctors worse, but good doctors better.

      Warmest regards,

      Ron Smith, MD
      www (adot) ronsmithmd (adot) com

      • Margalit Gur-Arie

        Hi Dr. Smith, great to hear from you too, and I don’t think we disagree at all. Good technology can help tremendously and I actually thing that lack of it can, and is, placing even the best doctors at some disadvantage today. But just like you said in your last paragraph, your use of technology has nothing to do with “trust”.

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