Future Physicians Embrace Technology and Patient-Centered Care

September 13, 2013
Marisa Torrieri

Why today's medical students are technology hounds, more employment-minded than ever, and interested in patients' overall well-being.

Patients who want more of their doctors to get out of the dinosaur age and start using portals, EHRs, and tablets could have their wishes granted sooner than later. The same is true for patients who hope more physicians will involve families in treatment and decision-making.

According to technology vendor Epocrates' eighth annual Future Physicians of America survey - an online poll of 1,026 medical students from all 50 states and more than 200 medical schools conducted in July - the doctors of tomorrow are technology hounds, with 44 percent of  them using a tablet, smartphone, and computer routinely in a professional or academic capacity. Additionally, more than half (54 percent) use a tablet as part of their medical training - a whopping 31 percent increase over last year.

"One of the striking things that stood out was use of tablets," internal medicine physician Anne Meneghetti, director of clinical communication for Epocrates, told Physicians Practice. "Tablet use among medical students has really exploded. This also mirrors the trends that we're seeing among physicians."

And when it comes to care, the future doctors of America are totally into the idea of patient-centered care - the involvement of patients and families in treatment and decision-making.

"Younger physicians instinctively know what the entire medical community is realizing, that medicine is a team experience and patients are increasingly active participants," said Meneghetti. "The moments of care extend beyond an office visit."

Technology can play a role in this too, for example, in helping patients manage their diseases and lifestyle changes, she added.

Matt Emery, a second-year student at Wake Forest Medical School in Winston-Salem, N.C., who answered the survey, suggested the dynamic of interacting with patients is changing.

"Say you have patients with type 2 diabetes. We can't force them to do what they should do, but we can find out what's preventing them from taking their medications, checking their glucose, exercising, and eating right," said Emery, in a statement. "We need to understand what's going on in a person's life before we can hope to successfully treat them."

Meanwhile, students are concerned about student loan burdens and burnout, and perplexed when it comes to the idea of accountable care organizations (ACOs). What's more, many future physicians indicated medical schools aren't preparing doctors to go into practice management.

Only 17 percent of students plan to go into solo or partnership practice, according to the survey. Thirty-seven percent of medical students expressed dissatisfaction with the training they are receiving in practice management and ownership business skills critical to the successful running of any healthcare enterprise, and 41 percent indicated they lack instruction in billing and coding.

Harrison Cotler, a third-year medical student at Rowan University in New Jersey who answered the survey, said opening up a private practice in the world of ACOs and bigger groups is equivalent to opening up a mom-and-pop shop next to a huge chain store.

"You can't just practice medicine anymore; you have to be business savvy too," said Cotler, in a statement.

With so many regulations, financial responsibilities, and other pressures, being a solo physician may require more business skills than in previous years, said Meneghetti. At the same time, being an employed physician holds some promise of helping young doctors achieve work-life balance.

"The business of medicine is a changing target, so what I might have learned in medicine back in the day may not be relevant today," said Meneghetti. "It's not easy to convey entrepreneurship, business strategy. Fifty-one percent of students are focusing on balancing work and personal life. And there's simply more security and predictability in a large business setting."