Social Interactions in Healthcare Matter
For years I've been arguing that social interactions can drastically improve the business world by increasing profits, reducing costs, and improving productivity and customer retention. Today, we're seeing very similar sentiments within healthcare. A recent Wall Street Journal article titled, "Imagine Doctors, Patients Talking," offers relevant commentary on the future of health care with respect to doctor-patient relationships and what improved social interactions can do. To echo the sentiments of the article, I believe social interactions can:
1. Reduce excessive patient costs – As a result of trusting, open conversations between doctors and patients, we will see a "weeding out wasteful spending in more routine cases where less is at stake." In other words, doctors will outline various alternatives that will let patients be more thoughtful about the options they pursue. Currently, we see excessive treatment of patients who choose to exercise all procedures. In the end, this does not necessarily lead to improved health and can even make conditions worse.
2. Lead to better decision making - The article also says that we're seeing a lot more "shared decision-making, where patients receive unbiased 'decision aids' and hash out with their primary-care physicians the risks and benefits of various screening or treatment options before proceeding." By increasing the dialogue between doctor and patient, we're giving patients the opportunity to make informed decisions that has the potential to reduce the number lawsuits that doctors face.
3. Improve patient outcomes – Doctors who establish positive relationships with patients will not only have an increased number of referrals, but patients who are more willing to make regular visits. I can't think of a single person I know who actually looks forward to going to see his or her doctor. It seems that seeing a doctor these days usually happens when there's a condition or symptom. If we can get patients in to see doctors before problems occur, we can work towards a preventative health care model, rather than a reactionary one.
There are all sorts of challenges that come with healthcare reform including financial costs, a shift in attitude, and new policies. However, there are already signs that change is underway. We can already see examples of healthcare stake holders doing things differently. Here are some recent examples I've seen:
1. HelloHealth.com – Brooklyn-based HelloHealth is comprised of three doctors who believe in communicating with patients through new technologies. They're not afraid to email and even encourage patients to friend and follow them on Facebook and Twitter!
2. Runningahospital.blogspot.com – Paul Levy, President of Beth Israel uses this blog to talk about the hospital and health care issues.
3. Childrenshospitalblog.com – The recently launched blog of Children's Hospital Boston features guest blog posts from hospital physicians and encourages a healthy dialogue among commenters.
If practitioners can internalize the belief that doctor-patient relationships are pivotal to quality health care, we will see a drastic improvement in our healthcare system. It's going to take a lot for this change to come, but enhanced social interactions will lead to benefits that are too important to dismiss.