By Dr. Eddie Chaloner - Consultant Vascular Surgeon
The information age has transformed the way that most businesses function, and healthcare is no exception.
As with many industries, the pandemic has accelerated and embedded existing trends of increasing digitalisation and routine use of technology in delivery of healthcare.
Over the last decade there has been a developing trend for more information to be available in relation to health and wellbeing. This trend covers specific information about particular diseases and symptoms, details of the pros and cons of treatment options and the outcome statistics of healthcare institutions and professionals.
Multiple delivery platforms offering rapid remote consultations with General Practitioners and Specialists have proliferated, all promising to ‘revolutionise’ healthcare in a more accessible, transparent and consumer friendly way. Artificial intelligence algorithms claim to be able to diagnose and recommend treatments without the need for direct input from expensive human doctors.
And yet, is this ‘revolution’ all that it purports to be? Do people really want the democratisation of medicine, where consumers are provided with information overload and asked to make their own choices?
Any interaction between doctor and patient carries an information asymmetry – simply put, the doctor knows (or claims to know) more about the disease process than the patient does – if that wasn’t the case, there would be little point in the patient consulting the doctor at all.
But how does the patient know which doctor is the right one for their particular requirements? Medicine has become ever more specialised and super specialised over the last 30 years. With increasing knowledge and treatment options comes a narrowing of focus within the medical profession – it simply isn’t possible for one doctor to retain high level expertise across the whole spectrum of medicine, or even within one specific clinical discipline.
For example, a patient may need a different specialist for a heart rhythm disturbance than for a myocardial infarction (heart attack). Cancer medicine is a particularly fast moving specialty, where new drug discovery and clinical trial information change and complicate practice very regularly.
Although there is more information available online than ever before, how can a non-medical person interpret, contextualise and navigate the best path, when even doctors struggle to keep up?
The old - style system of patient referral to a known expert in a particular specialty, might be seen as ‘so last century’, but it worked pretty well for many decades. We are at risk of losing something precious in the frenzied rush for technological revolution in medical practice – the personalised professional guidance that lies at the heart of medicine, inspiring trust and confidence between patient and doctor. Do patients really want to be advised by an AI avatar, or be asked to make their own selection of specialist from a website directory of doctors?
At Dr Loxley, we don’t think so, join us at www.drloxley.com
Published by By Dr. Eddie Chaloner, Consultant Vascular Surgeon
MA(Oxon) BM BCh FRCS(Edin) FRCS (Gen)