POINT/COUNTERPOINT: Doctors – Who Needs ‘Em?

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This post is part of a series of point/counterpoint arguments proposed by different members of the Pixels & Pills staff. Were strong believers that healthy arguments can yield the best solutions, and we hope that you enjoy our series. Feel free to add your own arguments in the comments section below!

by Krissy Goelz (@krisgoelz)

Im not young enough to remember when doctors made house calls, and theres a chance my grandchildren will not remember a time when doctors ruled as medicines authority figure. Is it possible that doctors may go the way of other professions ousted by technology?

Yes, well always need trained physicians and surgeons. But the role of doctor as we know it today is slipping into irrelevance.

Its not just that were facing a shortage of primary care doctors, but how people view medicine and care is evolving. Doctors once held all the power — they commanded all the knowledge and served as gatekeepers of disease insight and treatment options. However, Web-based technology and information access is changing that, putting patients in the drivers seat.

Pew Internet and American Life Projects May 2011 “The Social Life of Health Information, 2011 report found that health professionals and offline resources remain central to most adults with health questions, but online social tools are a significant supplement. As technology becomes increasingly integral to life, those roles may soon reverse, with technology taking over for the physician.

Today, empowered patients sometimes know more than their doctor. Thats because doctors are busy running their practices, with less time to pore over medical journals, attend industry conferences or connect with colleagues. Many patients today take the time to do due diligence before stepping into the waiting room. They conduct research, talk to other patients and have access to medical journals and literature. Walking into the doctors office, theyve often self-diagnosed and come armed with information regarding the medication theyd like prescribed.

Many people skip the professional practice altogether and seek out alternative solutions. The global nutritional supplement market has grown substantially over the last several years and more people are seeking alternative therapies including herbal supplements, massage therapy and acupuncture to treat maladies rather than rely solely on traditional medicine.

Highly engaged patients are also shifting their focus to preventative care and disease management, which may also lessen the need for professional intervention. While an initial visit may be necessary to confirm a diagnosis or to procure a prescription, patients may instead rely on community support to change lifestyle habits or learn how to manage side effects and symptoms. With a greater focus on problem prevention, intervention by a professional becomes less necessary. After all, if your computer is running perfectly, do you bring it in for a service visit?

While not everyone is comfortable serving as their own Dr. Google, there are many people who are able to peruse medical resources, collect others insight and use their own judgment and intuition to make sound decisions regarding their state of wellness. With a wider variety or medications available without a prescription, greater access to information, and a networked community of patients, practitioners, influencers and recommenders, who needs to wait 30-minutes in the physicians office for information that might readily be found online?

Plenty of us have a penchant for cyberchondria, but when pressed for time and able to get information instantly at the click of a mouse, its more likely that future patients will think “the internet will see you now when in need of medical care.

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3 Responses to POINT/COUNTERPOINT: Doctors – Who Needs ‘Em?

  1. I like it, even though I’ve been practising clinical medicine for more than 20 years. Nevertheless, my own experience with e-patients is not so reassuring. Wide access to information leads frequently to the certainty of having colonic carcinoma when you probably have haemorrhoids, or to the certainty of impending blindness at the very diagnosis of type 2 diabetes. A lot of my daily tasks with e-patients is simply correct focusing, priorizing and reassuring.

  2. Thank you for your comment, Federico.
    Stay tuned to see tomorrow’s “counterpoint” post – I think you’ll agree with much of what it has to say.

  3. Stephen Meyers, Md says:

    I am all for patient empowerment and self-education–it is the core of my own online efforts. There are many conditions and situations that can now be self-managed with today’s greater access to information. However, anyone with a potentially serious condition, or at least one needing prescription medication, would be taking on significant risk by leaving the doctor out of the equation. A better approach is neither relying completely on self-treatment or a doctor’s dogmatic approach, but combining the best of both.