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Health IT Gadgets Great, But Concierge Medicine about Personal Touch


Growing health IT innovations may put more space between physician and patient, a stark contrast to concierge medicine, which strives for a closer relationship.

Like many of my generation, I enjoyed the original Star Trek series and marveled at the technology. Just think of all those amazing gadgets that were so futuristic in the 60s and 70s, but are a reality today.

I was reminded of this old TV classic at the inaugural Forbes Healthcare Summit in New York City held earlier this month. During the two-day confab for industry leaders, the many ways technology is changing healthcare were visibly demonstrated and touted by some of the nation’s top corporate executives and thought leaders. 

I was fascinated and impressed by much that was discussed. However, my concern is that some of the newer perspectives emphasize the value of technology and de-emphasize the human components of care.

One of the featured panel discussions was on "personalizing medical treatment" using genetic mapping of the patient’s genes to identifying treatment opportunities for individual cancers.  On a display from one of the genetic mapping companies was a reference to "personalized medicine." It caught my eye because I always thought of personalized care as typified by concierge models that emphasize relationships.  Yet, in healthcare today, personalization often means something very different and that is a bit sad, and troubling.

Yet I guess it’s also a sign of the times. The well-known physician personality Dr. Oz, as well as several other presenters, also talked about how technology would change healthcare. They projected that communication between patients and caregivers was moving rapidly to your smartphone, something like medical "Facebook."  Beyond the concept of e-mail or texting, there would be secure exchanges of information on your hand-held device that would supply information and test results as well as return important information to you, decentralizing the interaction between caregiver and patient.  

And there were other innovations touted as well. Pharmaceutical companies spoke about developing drug therapies for smaller patient populations - not just focusing on blockbuster drugs. There was even an impressive display on a $10 million dollar award for the creation of a working "tricorder" (just like what we saw in Star Trek) a hand-held analytic device that could ultimately diagnose patients.

While some see this as progress - and some of it is - my concern is that some of these innovations are another brick on the path to "de-personalized medicine." As technology increases, there will be less call for physicians and patients to meet in person, if at all. It struck me that there was so much involved in taking away the personal component of healthcare, when for centuries, healthcare has been all about that personal component.

I am generally an early adopter of technology and look to how it can make work and interactions more efficient, but I wonder if relying on the continued move toward even more technology and big-box medicine will be right for all patients. Most physicians will tell you that there is no substitute for sitting down face-to-face with a patient you know, and who knows you.  These physicians note there are far too many intangible elements involved in effective patient care, diagnosis, and treatment that can only be gained in person - and that are only enhanced as the relationship between physician and patient grows.

While most people are excited at the concept of Star Trek medicine, we know that today, more people want the services that concierge programs offer: more direct connection to the physician, more time with the doctor to discuss all the issues of life and health, and more help understanding the processes that we go through in managing our health. While technology may make care more cost efficient, if not properly incorporated into the healthcare delivery process, it also takes the doctor further from the patient, especially at the primary-care level.  

Don’t get me wrong; there is clearly tremendous value in healthcare technology; and a real-world Star Trek tricorder is a worthy quest. But I think futurists are missing the point. Let’s not forget that there was a physician, Dr. Leonard McCoy, who saw patients personally and spent one-on-one time with them. He is, in many ways, an example of the concierge physician of the future - adapting useful technology - but never forgetting the value of human interaction.

What are your thoughts on the rapid growth of technology in healthcare today? Do you welcome its efficiencies? How do you plan to incorporate useful technologies while maintaining personal patient relationships?

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