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I want to be buried with a mobile phone, just in case I'm not dead - Amanda Holden


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"Until recently, the notion of a more informed and independent patient was more promise than reality. But thanks to a new wave of biosensors, smartphone apps, and innovative medical services, the age of the Empowered Patient has arrived. He is armed with exhaustive healthcare data, more than at any moment in human history, and that data is poised to multiply in the coming years – data about his day-to-day fitness, his genetics, his blood work, patients who are similar to him, his doctor, even the doctor’s notes scribbled on the medical chart.

The torrent of information engenders expectations that are reshaping the one relationship that has traditionally defined healthcare: the relationship between doctor and patient. The Empowered Patient population expects greater access to their physician and any medical particulars, from genetics analysis to pricing. When it comes to care, they expect to be part of the decision-making process, a departure from the profession’s ingrained paternalism. And most demanding of all, they expect options.

The result is a moment of unprecedented change for the $3.8 trillion U.S. healthcare industry. The various players are trying to figure out how even the most elemental aspects of healthcare should work going forward. Should doctors email and text with patients? Allow patients to read their exam notes? “We’re in a field of medicine that none of us is familiar with,” says Dr. Robert Wachter, professor and associate chair of the department of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, and author of the upcoming book, The Digital Doctor.

Dr. Eric Topol, a pioneering cardiologist, believes that healthcare is experiencing its Gutenberg moment.  In his upcoming book, The Patient Will See You Now, Topol writes that just as the movable-type printing press liberated knowledge in the 15th century through the written word, empowering the masses as never before, the smartphone liberates healthcare and empowers patients to a new degree.

Smartphones are now used by nearly 60 percent of Americans, according to the Pew Research Center. As a result, much of modern healthcare can be not only mobile but also instant. It’s the antithesis of the typical experience at a jammed-up doctor’s office, where the average wait time for an appointment is nearly three weeks and the time spent waiting in the office is nearly 20 minutes. American Well, MDLIVE and other companies now offer 24-hour virtual access to a doctor – the new frontier in telemedicine.

Smartphones can even replace doctors for certain medical needs. Using patients’ digital photos, apps such as SpotCheck and DoctorMole help identify potentially cancerous moles from benign ones, eliminating unnecessary appointments. Other apps such as Medicast and Pager apply a modern twist to a traditional service, allowing you to find a local doctor for a house call (or office or hotel call) any time, day or night.

Patients can also tap their way to sites such as PatientsLikeMe, which connect patients suffering from the same condition, and Smart Patients, which links patients and clinicians to talk about the latest trials and other medical research.

A smartphone, Topol suggests, upends the old paternalistic relationship. The patient is, in effect, promoted to COO, “who monitors all the operations of the body.” He reports to the doctor, who as CEO, offers guidance but doesn’t micro-manage.

If the dramatic changes and their implications sound familiar, they should. What’s happening in healthcare is similar to the democratization of information that digital technology brought to real estate, retail, entertainment, journalism, and other fields. “Whether you’re talking about an actual revolution fomented by Twitter or disruption by a service like Uber or Yelp,” says Wachter, “technology creates a lever by which people who have trusted experts say, ‘I can have much of the same data, and I can make my own decision,’ which is thrilling and correct in many ways, yet also fraught.”

Source: Chuck Salter, Excerpt from Power to the Patient: Health Apps, Data & Biosensors Redefine Healthcare, Fast Company, February 23, 2015.