Monday, September 26, 2011

Information Therapy for Doctors

You’re a doctor from one of the best medical schools in the country. You aced your class, and know medical terms like the back of your hand. One day, a patient comes in with an ailment, and while you think you know everything about the problem, his detailed, extraordinary questions stump you! He’s not the regular, accept-whatever-the-doctor-says sort of patient. He’s well-informed and has done extensive research on his illness. You could refer him to a specialist, but how will that enhance your own medical knowledge?

Doctors need Information Therapy too! A doctor’s major asset is his professional knowledgebase. As medical science progresses, doctors need to keep up with current trends. Medical textbooks get outdated quickly – and new editions and medical journals can be very expensive! Unfortunately, most doctors today are dependent on their “friendly” medical representatives for information on all the latest advances in therapeutics, and these reps are not always the most reliable source of information. This is why the Medical Council of India (MCI) has made Continuing Medical Education (CME) compulsory for doctors. The motive behind this move is to enable doctors to invest in educating themselves, so that they remain abreast with the latest, medical advances. When equipped with this knowledge, doctors will be in a better position to provide state-of-the-art medical care to their patients.

The only form of CME credits which the MCI recognizes is attendance at a medical conference. This medical conference has to be approved by the Council (presumably based on the quality of the content provided); and doctors who attend approved conferences get a certain number of credits for their attendance. Doctors need to prove that they have accumulated a certain number of credits every year if they want to renew their registration. The biggest problem is that in real life, medical conferences are terrible tools for teaching doctors! Lectures are the most inefficient form of transferring information!

Have you ever attended a medical conference? If you ever do, you are likely to find half the audience outside in the hallway – chatting, collecting freebies at the stall, and eating. Most are fast asleep once the lights are dimmed, while other doctors go out shopping or sightseeing once lunch is over. Few speakers have the eloquence and presentation skills to grip their audience since most are selected based on a quid pro quo basis – ‘If you invite me as a speaker for your conference, I'll invite you for mine.’ This is why most conferences have the same speakers talking on the same topics. Most presentations are boring and poorly prepared. They often contain outdated information, prepared at the last minute by a junior resident doctor, who has lifted information straight from the internet. The speaker then reads out the text on the slides, and tries to show off his erudition. The only reason doctors can get away with this is because few doctors in the audience are listening - and most doctors know even less than what the speaker does! This is why the ‘learning’ that doctors derive from conferences evaporates so quickly!

The reality is that these conferences are an utter waste of time and money! Can we really afford to waste the doctor's precious time on such insipid conferences that offer no real value or enhance the doctor’s knowledge? We need better tools to ensure that doctors remain up-to-date. If a doctor’s knowledge becomes outdated, he or she ends up losing patients to well-equipped specialists in corporate hospitals. Being poorly informed can also be embarrassing for doctors, when their patients with internet printouts know more about their disease than they do! The biggest problem arising from such ignorance is lawsuits for medical negligence – a doctor’s worst nightmare. This is why when doctors are stumped by difficult patients, they refer them to a specialist or expert, who then helps them to learn more about the management of that particular problem. However, this kind of learning is very episodic and opportunistic, and not all consultants are good at educating family physicians!

Doctors do not choose to remain willfully ignorant about medical advances. The reality is that, in a busy practice, when doctors spend all their time taking care of their patients, it is very hard to keep up. The trick is to deliver Information Therapy to the doctor ‘just in time’ – exactly at the time he needs it. This means the best way of providing it is when he is actually seeing a patient with a perplexing clinic problem. Today, the vast majority of doctors have easy access to the internet – either through a PC, laptop or their smartphone. This is why many will turn to the internet to keep themselves updated. While there are many online free resources, such as Medscape (www.medscape.com), Medicine Net (www.medicinenet.com), Doc Guide (www.docguide.com) and WebMD (www.webmd.com) the sad truth is there is very little high quality free medical information available on the net! Much of it is patchy and unreliable.
The good news is that now, for less than Rs 30 per day, Indian doctors can subscribe to the world’s largest online medical library, at www.mdconsult.com! MDConsult provides doctors with instant online access to the full text of over 40 respected medical books and 50 prestigious medical journals that are constantly updated, eliminating the need to ever buy a medical book! MDConsult provides convenience and peace of mind – at the doctor’s desktop – for only Rs 9,995 per year! This is a highly discounted price for Indian doctors only. MDConsult is the world’s largest online medical library. You can take a free tour at www.thebestmedicalcare.com/mdconsult.

It must be emphasized that Information Therapy for doctors does not just comprise learning from medical books and journals. The scope of Information Therapy goes much beyond that. It is equally important for physicians to learn to see things from a patient’s perspective! Doctors sometimes take patients for granted, not realizing that conversing with a patient can open new doors of knowledge, and lead to more effective diagnosis.

HELP will be organizing its 2nd Annual Conference on Putting Patients First. The theme this time is : Using Information Therapy to Put Patients First in India.
The website is at http://www.patientpower.in/

This will be held at Nehru Centre on Sunday, 9th October’11 . Mr.Ken Long , Vice President, International Operations at Healthwise, U.S.A, will be the keynote speaker and he will be talking on “What Healthwise is doing in the US to Promote Information Therapy – what we’ve learned so far”.

On this occasion, we will be releasing a book titled, Using Information Therapy to Put Patients First.




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