It’s an exciting and challenging time to be a doctor. Twenty years ago, doctors’ bags were filled simply with stethoscopes, reflex hammers, and tongue depressors. Today, you’re more likely to find sophisticated technology-based tools such as tablets, phones, healthcare apps, and electronic medical records. Digital doctors are connected to other clinicians everywhere. And technology offers new ways to consult remotely with patients.
While these technological advances offer unprecedented benefits to doctors, they come with risks and responsibilities. I see these falling into three main areas.
Data privacy and security
Today, most of us use more technology in daily life. In or out of the office, you may routinely do things like email colleagues about patients from your mobile phone. If you do, realize that anything said in those emails goes everywhere your phone goes. Patient information that used to be kept secure in office files is now out on the streets. What if you lose your phone?
To protect your patients’ privacy and keep their data secure, I recommend that you take these simple precautions:
- Encrypt data—Make sure that your patient information is encrypted, so that unauthorized people can’t see it.
- Use strong passwords—Prevent unauthorized access to the data on your devices by requiring passwords. This includes USB keys, if you use them to back up data.
- Enable remote wipe—Set up ways to clean all data from your devices remotely, in case you lose one.
Doctors also are responsible for protecting their patient relationships—even as technology makes personal interaction tougher. In exam rooms today, doctors capture notes in three ways that impact directly how they relate to their patients:
- First, maybe you write notes on paper records while sitting near your patients and maintaining eye contact. Patients are used to this approach and feel comfortable with it.
- Second, entering notes on your desktop computer may be more your style. Be careful, though, because your patients don’t want you looking at your computer more than you look at them.
- Third, doctors are starting to rely on tablets with pen input for their exams. This may turn out to be the best of both worlds because you get the closeness of the old paper-based approach with the convenience of computer-based note taking.
The last area of responsibility is telemedicine. Our old model of relying solely on office consults isn’t working for a couple reasons:
- First, there aren’t enough doctors to service the world’s population.
- Second, office visits aren’t always practical for people with the greatest need, such as elderly patients.
The better way is to set up virtual technologies, such as Skype and Microsoft Lync. This gives patients who have difficulty moving, live hundreds of kilometers away, or need just a quick re-check another way to talk to you. HD video cameras cost only $70 and Skype is largely free, making telemedicine a cost-effective way to see patients—as long as doctors are reimbursed for it. Soon all patients will have these technologies. You might want to have them, too.
To be a good doctor today—a digital doctor—it's not enough to know your medicine. You also need to know your technology and the risks that come with it. In fact, mastering both sides is the new standard of care for today's digital doctors. Check out my video interview from the recent Healthcare Innovation 2013 event, and leave a comment here or send me an e-mail. I'd love to hear about the challenges you're facing.