Technology will democratize medicine

Patients are more empowered with their medical decisions, more than ever.  With the Internet, they are able to research their conditions and can sometimes diagnose their conditions and treatment without having to step in the office.  “Dr. Mom” can find useful information on treating their infant’s cold at 2 am.

However, when there are serious chronic conditions, patients want an expert.  Patients can get information on the disease – the government, research hospital institutions, and non-profits provide a plethora of useful information about a given disease.  But, where do patients get the best possible care?

Interestingly, despite the wealth of knowledge on the Internet, when it comes to finding a good doctor, it’s generally the old-fashioned word of mouth among friends and neighbors.  But, does Aunt Sally really know who the best pediatric urologist is?  Does Aunt Sally know the doctor’s medical training; does she know the doctor’s research focus; does she know if the doctor is well-respected and well-regarded in the medical field; does she know if the doctor is certified in his or her subspecialty; does she know the volume of procedures the doctor has done (since volume is often associated with proficiency)?

Getting this information takes a lot of time and effort.   Some of this information is especially difficult to get; some of this information is not available to the public and some of this information requires medical training and expertise. And, if the lucky patient is able to secure the names of qualified doctors, the doctors may be far away or not be able to take the appointment.

Tele-medicine, interactive healthcare through modern technology, is making inroads in this area.  Patients can find doctors through a multitude of sites like Healthgrades, Consumers’ Checkbook, Best Doctors.  However, the best doctors should not be chosen for their personality, but for their medical expertise. Patients can get their records digitized, and schedule and meet with these expert doctors.  Yet, it is often difficult to get a timely appointment and in cases of chronic conditions, time is the essence.  Luckily, new communication platforms such as email and video provide additional channels of communication. Patients can get care for serious conditions by getting second opinions online through several hospitals, but the ideal second opinion service would be institution-agnostic, so patients could get the best care regardless of location.

When patients have been diagnosed with a serious condition, getting the best treatment lets them focus on their  well-being and health.  Worrying about the quality of their doctors or the treatment should be the least of their worries. Technology will democratize medicine, so that patients can and will get the best care available.

Lawrence Hofmann is Chief, Interventional Radiology, Associate Professor of Radiology, Stanford University Medical Center.  He is founder of ConsultingMD.

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