Jacky Law asks who is really being served as medicine adapts to an increasingly mobile, connected and interactive world?
If m-health advocates are to be believed, more than a fifth of all medicine will be practised online by 2013 and much of that will be by phone. Peter Wagemann, vice-president of mHealth Initiative, goes further, suggesting doctors will no longer be lone practitioners in their offices but conductors of a healthcare orchestra involving a myriad of players. “Instead of the occasional 10 to 30 minutes that patients have with doctors today, mobile technology enables continuous communication,” he said in a new FirstWord report.1
But not, importantly, in person. The crucial thing about m-health is that patients don’t need to see their doctor. Instead they manage their conditions on the move via mobile phone apps, which can help with things such as knowing when to take your drugs or what food you should be eating, or via online conversations with fellow sufferers. If they need contact with a professional, they can always send them a text or email.
Heaven forbid that anyone might suggest lives lived at roller-coaster speed are not always conducive to rude health. Or that so-called empowered patients might have their own reasons why they are not taking their drugs as the doctor ordered. Or that interaction with anonymous folk where specific morbidity is the only thing they have in common also runs risks in terms of misinformation, obsession, introspection and so on. Or even that someone feeling ill and therefore vulnerable might actually appreciate some eyeball-to-eyeball contact with a human being who has experience and objectivity and who might inject some healthy perspective into one’s condition.
None of this is to negate the welcome and enormous shifts in power that are taking place as people no longer depend entirely on healthcare professionals for information on what can be done about their condition. It is simply to recognize that people who are ill are not necessarily rational consumers of information. They are also people who, more than at any other time in their lives, need real contact with fellow human beings who they can trust to guide them through not only what can and can’t be done about their condition but also the emotional maze of being seriously ill. Healthcare professionals can’t always rise to the occasion but there is certainly more chance when they are seen in person rather than via text or email.
Its like the hype for health snacks — healthy food on the go — when everyone knows digestive systems work best when they are not on the go. Similarly, healthcare systems work best when patients are not constantly on the move.
1. ‘Digital Technologies to Boost Patient Compliance’, FirstWord, September 2010.