The computer will see you now
September 13th, 2013
Lincoln, NE — As Nebraska health care providers incorporate more and more technology into even routine patient visits, the dynamic between doctor and patient is changing and not necessarily for the better.[audio:https://kvnonews.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/Health-Tech-PT3.mp3]
Lincoln, Neb., resident Rob Allen, said he started the new year “horribly, horribly, horribly out of shape.”
He knew something needed to change, but he had trouble getting into a new rhythm. His personal trainer suggested an app that helps him track his diet and how much he exercises. For example, he can scan the barcode of items at the grocery store and the app will provide data on the nutritional content of the food.
“The app is called My Fitness Pal,” Allen said. “I ended up losing like 40 pounds in the first six months of the year, and the app had a lot to do with that.”
Allen is part of a new paradigm for health care, experts say.
“When it’s your health, and your illness, you should be accepting responsibility for doing as much research as you possibly can,” said Deb Bass with the Nebraska Health Information Initiative, a network connecting electronic data from health care providers statewide.
Bass said sees American healthcare shifting to a more wellness-based, preventative care approach. People increasingly expect – and want – their medical information to be available to them anywhere at any time. As a result, they’re much more engaged in their personal health.
“We grew up treating disease, not encouraging wellness,” Bass said. “We have generations of individuals that trust whatever their doctor says is absolutely right, and they don’t question it, and they don’t ask (questions). They also don’t respect or accept the responsibility for their wellness.”
Dr. Peter Loeninghoener from O’Neill in north-central Nebraska agrees.
“I really think it is a trend,” Loeninghoener said. “I think that’s the way healthcare is going to go. And if we are in an age where we’re supposed to be making it more efficient and less costly, (patients) have to take an active role.”
But despite Lincolnite Rob Allen’s success with his fitness app, he says it couldn’t do the job of his personal trainer; he calls it a supplement, not a replacement.
Yet some are concerned that technology has started to replace person-to-person treatment. As health care providers use more and more technology in their daily work, some experts worry it’s leading to distracted doctoring, so to speak, as doctors and nurses spend more time looking at a computer screen than the patient in front of them.
“I think as we put more and more technology between us – the health care provider and the patient – we distance ourselves,” said Dmitry Oleynikov, professor of surgery at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
The world’s collective medical knowledge might be greater now than ever before, but Oleynikov said not all changes are progress. He said in the past, there was a greater emphasis in medicine on the human condition. Today? It’s about data points.
“My patients – whether they’re young or old – want me to look them in the eye, and to explain to them, in terms they can understand, what is going on, and have the opportunity to ask me questions,” Oleynikov said.
As health care technology evolves, the idea is to make it fade into the background. Voice-recognition software is one way to do that, experts say; switching from desktop computers to portable tablets when interacting with patients could also help, said Cheryl Thompson, associate professor in the College of Nursing at UNMC in Omaha.
“I think the tablets may offer a better technology over the laptops or the PCs in the room, just because you can hold it in your lap,” Thompson said. “And once you get familiar with it, you can interact with it less and you can still maintain eye contact.”
As Johnson put it, it’s all about finding the right balance.
While her clinic uses electronic health records and has an online patient portal where you can book an appointment, they chose to NOT have an automated phone system. For now, at least, you can still talk with a live person.
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