Do Your Doctor Visits Resemble 2018 or 1918?
Patients are, well, losing their patience with the many hassles involved in seeing their doctor and staying well.
There can be long delays in scheduling an appointment, which can delay getting a jump on a pernicious disease and result in lower quality of care. That’s followed by overcrowded and slow-moving waiting rooms. Add in paperwork and bureaucracy. When you’ve finally made it to the exam room, you’re lucky to get 10 minutes with the doctor.
“Patients simply want their story to be heard,” said Natasha Burgert, a physician in Kansas City, MO. “They want us, as physicians, to not only find out what’s ailing them and help them heal, but value their individuality along the way. They want to tell us what makes their case different.”
Our bodies are a complex biological roadmap, unique as our fingerprints. Increasingly, patients are starting to demand the same kind of digital customization in healthcare that they already get in so many everyday things, from their cellphone screen to their streaming movie service.
And increasingly, they’ll get it from physicians who pull insights from patient data gathered from dozens of sources to learn the personal story behind those numbers. The immediate and long-term result: doctors can do a better job healing and helping their patients. The benefits are many, including the ability to more accurately estimate the risk of future health or sickness. Such progress would lead to better preventative care, such as suggestions for a change in diet or physical activity for someone prone to, say, heart disease.
It’s all part of a move toward precision medicine, a sharp contrast to the old one-size-fits-all approach to healthcare.
According to a recent survey, only 19 percent of health care executives and clinicians said they use data “very or extremely effectively” in directing patient care.
But this will change. The individualized approach to healthcare will allow doctors and researchers to map a particular treatment to the unique biology of patients, taking into account individual variability in genes, environment, and lifestyle. The move toward predictive and personalized health care will require a full cycle of integration—in and out of the doctor’s office—with patients gaining a deeper understanding of and participation in their own health.
The journey will begin when you schedule your first appointment.
Basic patient demographic data is pre-loaded into your file before you arrive, with information gathered from everyday wearable technology. For example, a patient might use their smartphone to take their own EKGs [electrocardiograms]. Or they may collate information about their last month’s sleep cycles, gathered via an app that uses their phone’s microphone to record breathing patterns, as an early indicator of sleep apnea. The results are pre-loaded into the doctor’s system. If a healthcare provider sees that you have genetic predisposition to conditions that require a certain type of screening, they will be ready to administer it upon arrival.
Less time spent collecting background information means the visit is devoted solely to the patient’s current ailment. This allows more quality time with the doctor, Burgert notes, allowing for better assessment and a plan to map out a route to wellness.
In the near future, a trip to the doctor’s office will feel more like a trip to the future than a journey to the past. And it’ll begin before you even enter the waiting room. Check out our handy infographic of the new patient journey.
Eliminate the Wait
On the way to the appointment, your health app detects your GPS location and automatically alerts the doctor’s office when you’re fifteen minutes away. This could shorten wait times and perhaps eliminate the need for waiting rooms altogether.
Setting the Baseline
On your first visit, a “patient navigator” walks you through a baseline screening. A small digital stethoscope takes your blood pressure without you removing your shirt. Then you step into a full body scanner and place two fingers on a sensor; it quickly calculates your height, weight and body temperature. The scanner passes information through an AI program to determine overall wellness, including results relating to heart health, diabetes, anemia and HIV. A DNA spit test quickly assesses your genetic structure. For patients who have a significant family history of cancer, this screening searches for dozens of genes associated with hereditary cancer syndromes.
Instead of waiting anxious hours or days for your lab results to come back, they’re ready in just a few minutes. That means you and your doctor can go over them together. Your personal data gets fed directly onto a large touchscreen on the wall of the examining room, and your doctor walks you through your medical report. Medical recommendations flash across the screen, and speech recognition algorithms help transcribe the conversation in real time, as they’re added to your health records. The information also shows whether a particular medication works with your genetic code.
Closing the Information Loop
That same care doesn’t stop when you leave the office. An app seamlessly monitors and aggregates activity and health wearables so doctors can track specific issues, like blood pressure or glaucoma. Remote data gathering continues to help your medical team proactively monitor your health, instead of waiting for serious issues to arise.
In addition, patients can tap into their own data quickly through an online portal, a website containing electronic health records systems that give 24-hour access to services, messages, and information from your medical care team. Live video chat is also available. Together, along with a mobile app that reminds you when it’s time to fill a prescription, you can continuously help managing your health long after you’ve left the doctor’s office.
While this data collection serves to improve your own medical attention and service, it can also help the medical community at large. Medical researchers can’t draw meaningful conclusions about individual differences, genetic or otherwise, unless they have information from many different populations. By anonymizing and gathering specific medical data from millions of research participants from all parts of the country and world, including those from communities that have been traditionally underrepresented in biomedical research, a stronger picture of the current state of wellness, and its most pressing needs, emerges. This allows doctors to know in advance which diseases threaten you, and make your healthcare proactive and preventive.
When it comes to healthcare, one size doesn’t fit all. If you need glasses you aren’t assigned a generic pair; you get a custom prescription. Similarly, if you have an allergy you get tested to determine exactly what causes the stuffiness and sneezing. Now, through customized data gathering and its smart application, the healthcare industry is stepping up its efforts to individualize care in order to treat the most important patient of all: you.
This content is produced by WIRED Brand Lab in collaboration with Western Digital Corporation.
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