The evolution of the patient-physician relationship

As patients seek information and form communities, the dialogue with their doctors is changing.

In the past, conversations between physicians and their patients were one-sided. Of course, the patient would need to explain their symptoms and issues, or share family history, or identify a pharmacy of choice (details still necessary from patients today). But the relationship was much more paternalistic.

Now, that patient-physician relationship is changing – and evolving to be less paternalism, and more of a partnership – where the doctor is an expert who can guide the patient through their healthcare approach in a unified discussion where the two plot the best path forward. Thanks to increased patient access to available information on the internet and social media, they’re spending more time preparing to see their doctors, arriving with more questions, and increasing their engagement in the conversation. When someone enters a doctor’s office or hops on a tele-health call, they’re entering these conversations armed with their own research – at times, challenging physicians on their diagnoses and decisions. Patients today are taking a far more proactive role in their health and asking detailed questions to ensure the recommended steps are safe and correct.

Of course, this does have its drawbacks – and can add hurdles for any physician – making patient care more difficult. While access to information has improved, misinformation influencing patient thinking brings a layer of complexity that physicians must navigate. While physicians are no longer the only source of health and medical information, there’s also been a cultural shift in how people share details about their challenges, and how they connect to others in similar situations.

For physicians and patients to ensure they’re working together and communicating properly within this new dynamic, they must better understand the evolutionary factors:

Available information

We’ve all done it. You start to feel soreness, or get a headache, and immediately search online for details about your symptoms and what they could potentially mean. Patients today have information at their fingertips – researching their conditions and getting perspectives from medical websites and forums. This gives the patient the power to be involved in their health journey and seek out guidance on what could be ailing them, as the person they see in the doctor’s office is no longer the end-all be-all source of medical information.

Patient advocacy and communities

Years ago, discussing health problems was a private matter, and many were hesitant to speak openly about their ailments or rush to the doctor to seek help. But today, patients are more comfortable talking about their health experiences, discussing their symptoms in detail, and wanting to proactively resolve any issues rather than letting them linger. Patients who aren’t vocal can leave their physicians with incomplete information – but those who are their own advocates can ensure physicians are well-informed and able to treat various conditions more effectively. The emergence of social media has also created a place for patient communities to form, where people share physician reviews, recommend treatments, and give guidance to others with similar illnesses, injuries, or diseases. These patient communities can provide support and deliver valuable validation that instills patient confidence in the decisions being made regarding their health and the physicians they’re trusting to deliver those outcomes.

With benefits come drawbacks

Still, patients need to be careful. When it comes to available information, the accuracy of some medical websites must be vetted, and misinformation can be a major problem. Physicians must first assess their patients’ baseline of knowledge and determine how much of what they’ve gathered is factual, and how much needs to be corrected.

While many communities operate with the best intentions, it’s important for patients to evaluate each one before joining. The physician can be a valuable partner in this – with the knowledge to determine if participation is a good move for each patient based on their circumstances. As we’ve seen during the pandemic, misinformation can be a detriment to the health of many who could have benefited from proper care if they weren’t influenced by the wrong group. That’s why it’s important for physicians to embrace the benefits these support systems can provide, but also find ways to help patients avoid the communities that aren’t credible or reputable.

The patient-physician relationship has come a long way over the past several decades. With the information available to patients, their willingness to share health issues, and the connection within communities, the active role they can play in their healthcare has never been greater. Working together with their patients, physicians can use these emerging trends to their advantage to more accurately diagnose and effectively treat their patients, while steering them clear of misinformation that could be detrimental to their ability to receive the best healthcare possible. But amid this evolving dynamic, questions remain. Do physicians feel less ownership? Or can they have better, deeper conversations because their patients are coming in more informed?


Sheetal Chawla is Vice President, Partner and Head of Life Sciences Business Unit for Capgemini Americas. She has more than 13 years of experience in strategy development, market analytics, marketing and business valuation. In her current role, she leads the life sciences practice at Capgemini Americas and provides industry thought leadership on digital transformation.