Why doctors fail to embrace Health 2.0

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Originally published in HCPLive.com

by Gwenn Schurgin O’Keeffe, MD, FAAP

New technologies can make healthcare more personalized, strengthen the patient–physician relationship, put the right information in the right hands at the right time, and potentially improve outcomes and efficiency across the healthcare spectrum. So why are so many physicians reluctant to embrace these changes?

Wikipedia defines Health 2.0 as “the use of a specific set of Web tools (blogs, Podcasts, tagging, search, wikis, etc) by actors in healthcare 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 healthcare, collaborate, and promote health education.”

“Health 2.0” isn’t just a buzz phrase; it’s fast becoming the essence of our medical system, whether we want to admit it or not. Many savvy patients and key subsets of the medical industry are already on board. What I find simultaneously intriguing and frustrating is that the one group that seems to be holding out on full implementation of Health 2.0 and all the power it can provide is the group that would benefit from it the most: physicians.

Sure, there are a few patients who have computer and reading literacy issues; but by and large, today’s patients are not only health-, computer-, and reading-literate, but they are also utilizing social media and various high-tech tools to learn about healthcare, connect with healthcare providers and other patients, and negotiate the healthcare system.

In doctor-land, however, except for a relatively small, tech-savvy group, one of the following two responses is the norm when Health 2.0 issues are raised:

1. Sheer panic.

2. Total acceptance and excitement, an almost Zen-like state of “Yes! That’s it. That’s what I’ve been saying!” This is often followed by a lost look, as the physician has no idea what to do next or how to adopt any Health 2.0 tools in his or her practice.

The call to Health 2.0 is here. Getting all physicians on board will require breaking down four huge barriers: Fear. Many physicians are fearful of what they do not know and are worried that it will be difficult for them to learn about new technology. Many have not yet made the leap to using EMRs or even getting Internet access in their offices, so anything even remotely more exotic is scary. Cost and location are huge obstacles, depending on the size of one’s group and practice location.

Loss of control. Many docs worry that this new type of social media-driven medicine will lessen their control over their practices. Unfortunately, they don’t understand the power it gives them to control their day and help them be more efficient, so they shy away. From scheduling to e-mailing results to patients, they can’t look past the technology learning curve to see how much time will be saved by adopting systems that will actually decrease the busywork that wears them down.

Loss of connection with patients. Not understanding the world of social media and networking, many of these docs fear loss of connection with their patients. If physicians gave some of these systems a try, they would understand that they actually enhance communication and foster the doctor–patient relationship.

Blinders. Some docs simply do not want to acknowledge the wave that is moving the healthcare system in a new direction. Despite not liking the current system much, they don’t want to embrace something new. This is, perhaps, the toughest barrier to break down, and only time and education will help them understand the value Health 2.0 can add to their lives. It’s time we admit that some of the problems we see in healthcare today are partly the result of our own resistance to technological innovations that are begging to become widespread, as well as to changes that are already occurring by virtue of our patients’ wishes.

Our patients are embracing Health 2.0 now. If we all embrace it together, as an industry, think of all the systems issues we’d fix–from time management to patient communication. Put that way, how could anyone still be in favor of ignoring health 2.0?

Gwenn Schurgin O’Keeffe is a pediatrician who blogs at Dr. Gwenn Is In.

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