Tuesday, April 18, 2017

How digital patient profiles can help doctors to understand their patients better

Service industries such as hotels use customer relationship management ( CRM ) systems extensively  in order to track the personal preferences of their clients , so they can provide them with high-quality services, tailored to their  individual tastes . Guest Experience  Management Systems allow them to delight their customers, allowing them to create guest loyalty. In order to do this efficiently, they need to capture a lot of  data about their customers, so they can learn more about their customer's needs and wants.  This is true even for websites like Amazon, who collect a lot of data about the past purchases of their customers, so they can customize what they display to each individual.
Why can't we apply these same lessons to medicine ? After all, patients are the healthcare industry's customers, and the more we know about our patients, the better the services we're going to be able to provide for them. Isn't it logical that we should have all this information about our patients at our fingertips whenever we do a consultation?
Ideally, whenever a patient signs up for an appointment, the EMR should be able to scrape online publicly-accessible databases and provide a summary about what her likes and dislikes are, so that the doctor is better prepared for the visit . Not only will the doctor be armed with the medical details about her illness, but will also have a better idea about what kind of  individual she is, and what her personality is.
Today, a good nurse or clinical assistant provides this information to the doctor just prior to the consultation , and this helps the doctor to create a personal connection with the patient. Over time, as we establish a relationship with our patient, we are able to understand our patients as unique individuals, and this allows us to create trust. Patients are comfortable with their doctor because they feel that he knows and understand them.
Why should it take multiple visits to create this bond?  We need to use technology intelligently  to help doctors to connect better with their patients , by helping them to understand their personal desires, wants and needs. This can help to strengthen the doctor-patient relationship, because the doctor will be able to see his patients as more than just someone who has a medical problem which needs treatment - he will see them as a fellow-human.  Wouldn't you be delighted if your doctor asked you about how your son was doing in school, because his EMR informed him that you had recently posted a photo of him winning the Math Olympiad on your Facebook page ?
Doctors today are often seen as impersonal and uncaring. Additional personal details about the patient will  make the doctor-patient interaction much richer, because it will help the doctor to connect better with the patient. It will encourage small talk and this kind of social lubrication can reduce the barriers  which impede doctor-patient communication. Most patients want to try to create a personal connection with their doctor, so that he will be more empathetic - let's help doctors to do this as well.  This is what made the family doctor of the past so special - he knew a lot about the family, and was often considered to be a part of it. We can use technology to create this same kind of magic again.
Interestingly, this kind of background information can help the doctor to provide better medical care. He can explore whether there is family support available at home; and who the caregiver is, so he can involve them in the treatment plan as well.
Perhaps when we ask patients to take an appointment, we should encourage them to fill in some of their personal details in the intake form, so we have a better sense of what their interests are. For example, they could add a link to their Facebook page, and this would help  doctors to improve their bedside manner by helping them to break the ice with their patients , since they now have some background information about their patient.
As William Osler  “The good physician treats the disease; the great physician treats the patient who has the disease.” Technology can help doctors to learn more about their patients !

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