Tuesday, February 7, 2012
The Age of Distribution: Social media in healthcare
Looking at these two asthma medications, it's not surprising that patients often confuse them. As Lawrence Martin, MD points out in 10 Common Misconceptions and Errors in Treating Asthma, when a patient becomes acutely short of breath, only the inhaler on the left will help, even though he or she will likely also own a maintenance inhaler like the one on the right.
This highlights a key distinction that's worth examining- the difference between knowledge acquisition and knowledge distribution in medicine.
Traditionally, great emphasis has been placed on the former. It's the stuff of eminent teachers and researchers, pathbreakers and groundbreakers. It's taught in hallowed halls and gathered by multimillion dollar machines.
Knowledge distribution, on the other hand, gets little fanfare. It has seen almost no growth since doctors stopped doing home visits. Patients come to a clinic, sit in a waiting room, and eventually get a few minutes to talk with their doctor to hear about the knowledge that's been gathered, and what to do about it.
This model works fine for some conditions, especially those with a quick, immediate fix. But for the majority of chronic, and costly, conditions, the information distribution element is crucial. Patients will live with these ailments daily, requiring significant understanding and by-in to their treatment. And while we often have great therapies, roughly half of all prescriptions go unfilled. This is one reason why a 15 minute office visit doesn't cut it.
All this is about to change.
We are entering a new era, where sophisticated communication tools are at our fingertips. With a smartphone and some clever apps, suddenly we aren't beholden to an office visit. Instead, doctors can get their message out to patients early and often. Those with asthma can be in continual contact with their physician, dialing in treatment to meet the evolving nature of this condition, rather than relying on a few visits yearly.
As chronic disease burdens mount, perhaps the focus will begin to shift away from knowledge acquisition and we will start to develop means of keeping more continual, low-level contact with these patients the gently nudge them towards optimized health. Perhaps medical school curricula will embrace social media and mobile apps, and a new wave of doctors will be able not only to acquire knowledge, but to also push it to where it counts.