I've been reading a number of interesting articles recently about patient engagement. This one talks about how HIT can complicate healthcare conversations. A report from Brian Ahier talks about how patients are starting to use Personal health records. Another post talks about how Health Data is Useful… if it Informs Conversations. Finally, one commentor posted on a blog (that I can no longer find) reports on how his provider's office said: "We don't like our patients to use the Internet."
The theme apparent in all of these articles that providers and healthcare IT will need to learn to work with a new breed of patient. We will all have some technological needs that are as yet unmet and even as yet undiscovered. But underlying all of that, the theme is really that change is coming. I've talked before about how generational change may be necessary when I discussed Healthcare Reform.
As consumers, we can spend hours researching the best TV brand or automobile to purchase. Why wouldn't we, and why shouldn't we do the same for our own health? We need to teach people how to be better patients, and give them the tools that they need to do that. This is one of my favorite public service ads on that topic (from ARHQ):
I want to encourage patient engagement. So now I have to think about what tools patients like my mother, me, or my children need to have to be engaged with healthcare providers. It starts, I think, with providing the skills and data to make good decisions. We need to teach our youth the skill to be a good patient the same way that we teach them other survival skills for our society such as how to use a checkbook, keyboard, or steering wheel. My kids could already do more with computers at the age of 3 than I could at the age of 13. Surely, if we succeed they will be better patients that I am today.
As patients, I hope that they will be able to come to their doctor with their own copy of their electronic medical records and the set of questions that they have that they have researched from the Internet, their friends and their family. If their grandmother can do it, and I can do it, they can learn it. But right now, this is NOT a skill that is taught to them in school.
At the same time, we need to start exploring the technology they will ultimately use. The PHR is only the first step in meeting their technology needs. The final answer is clearly some cool technology yet to be invented. But to figure out what that technology is, we have to start getting the information out there, and connecting it to the patient and provider.
What does this mean for healthcare IT? After that first step, I don't know, but we all need to be thinking about it. I don't know where e-patients are on the hype curve, but I do know that my own personal chasm of disillusionment will be deep and bitter if we don't start looking at this trend and start trying to address it.