Digital health is a rapidly growing concept. It would be unwise for a physician at this day and age to refuse to embrace all the wonderful features technology adds to medicine. Almost everything right now is electronic which makes it available at the click of a button. This is a lot easier than having to go through file cabinets or risk a few papers getting lost from a file. It’s also not just about saving space and ease of access. Digital health makes life easier for physicians by keeping them up to date with all that’s new and even allowing them to access journals and CME activities. The perks for patients are numerous as well as some of them live in remote areas where reaching a doctor can be too difficult and sometimes not worth it. Sometimes they just need to know if what they’re suffering from will resolve on its own or if it’s a medical emergency and an ER visit is required.
When we speak of healthcare technology we have to talk about telemedicine. Telemedicine is utilizing new technology and electronics in order to provide patients with medical assistance. The idea first started on a very primitive basis in the 1950s when hospitals exchanged radiology images using the telephone. Now with the internet, cameras, and smartphones the possibilities are endless when it comes to telemedicine. Now telemedicine is even used by organizations such as NASA in order to provide astronauts in space with medical assistance when needed. A similar term that people usually use interchangeably with telemedicine is telehealth. The WHO’s definition of telehealth includes surveillance, health promotion, and public health functions. So it wouldn’t be wrong to consider telemedicine one of the items that fall under the broader term of telehealth.
There are lots of ways to apply telemedicine to a physician’s daily work life. For starters physicians can use video chat. This can allow them to communicate with a patient in a remote area or if the patient can’t get to a hospital that instant. Of course this will require a good internet connection and laptops or smartphones with cameras on both ends. Using telemedicine for consultations is another wonderful perk. A primary physician can consult a specialist by uploading and sending all of a patient’s documents to them including records and results of any investigations. If clarification is needed the primary physician can also send a voice note to explain whatever it is they want to to the specialist. Of course it’s best that this is done through secure applications to ensure the patient’s confidentiality.
Observing patients after a simple procedure may also be done. If a patient had a minor operation or an operation that won’t require them to stay at the hospital, doctors can observe patients at home to make sure everything is okay. The use of vital signs monitor as well as an alarm in order to alert the hospital in case anything happens will be required of course.
Technology also comes into medicine in the form of health records. We currently have EMRs and EHRs which stand for Electronic Medical Records and Electronic Health records respectively. EMRs are digital patient records that a doctor creates and uses. The doctor has them all to himself and they can’t be accessed by any other doctor or the patient. EMRs only contain data acquired by a single physician. A patient’s previous records aren’t automatically added to it. An EHR on the other hand contains every single piece of medical information about a patient from the moment they were born, or from the moment the record was started. It has every procedure they ever had, every investigation, and every treatment they ever received. It can be shared by a patient’s entire health team and even the patient can have access to it.
Refusing to take advantage of electronic records would be unreasonable. Why would anyone refuse to utilize something that makes their lives easier and improves the quality of healthcare the patient gets? EHRs especially are very useful because it allows you to know all the relevant medical data about a patient which can help you avoid prescribing a drug the patient is allergic to but forgot to tell you about for instance. It’s also all available on your screen. You don’t have to look for the records or rely on the patient remembering their entire medical history accurately. Of course it also makes communicating with the patient’s other doctors more convenient as you all have access to the same records and can update them.
Journals are now accessible on the internet and you can access all of a medical journal’s content through paying a subscription fee. You don’t need to worry about receiving a journal in the mail or buying it anymore. You don’t even have to carry it around. You simply log in to the journal’s website and read all the latest in the world of medicine. You even receive email updates when a new edition is released and when there are new articles in the specialties you’re following. Basically you don’t have a reason for not being updated. It’s all available at the touch of a button on your phone.
Continuous Medical Education activities have been around for some years and they keep doctors updated and on their toes. It’s no longer a choice to choose to take them because in some areas you’re required to complete a certain number of CME credits per year. CMEs vary from simply reading articles or watching videos online followed by answering a short quiz about them to large conferences that you travel to. Online CMEs come in different forms. Some are like a class where you have to log in and watch at a certain time that can’t be repeated while others are available 24/7 and you can access them whenever you’re free. Both are great ways to update your medical knowledge. Even if you prefer to go to conferences and training sessions you’ll probably need to find out about them and register online. So whether it’s through medical journals or CMEs, if you want to stay ahead of the game and not fall behind in your specialty you’re going to need to use the internet and technology.
Even if you’re not interested in doing it for you, you need to realize that sometimes it’s about patients who need your help. Sometimes a person won’t know what to do or what kind of doctor to go to. All they need to do is ask a doctor in order to find out. Sometimes they can’t tell if the issue is minor and will resolve in a few days or if a visit to the doctor is needed. At FindaTopDoc there’s a feature that allows people to post medical questions in order for doctors to reply to them. Posting a question is free and doctors also answer for free without receiving any payment. There’s also a column on the side of the page that shows nearby doctors in the specialty required. This helps patients by showing them nearby doctors they can visit and also as they receive answers online from doctors who can tell them what needs to be done.
The benefits of technology are numerous and can be talked about for hours. We’re only discussing the usage of technology by physicians when it comes to communicating or simple things such as records. Imagine if we got into the technology being used today on an everyday basis such as MRIs or CTs. Even a simple ultrasound is technology. Technology has made every single career much more efficient and allows people to improve productivity and boost the quality of service they provide. Doctors are no exception and with all the stress in medicine it really doesn’t hurt to have something that makes things less tedious.