The Empowered Patient: Blessing or Curse?

Physician's Money Digest, May 2007, Volume 14, Issue 5

The Empowered Patient: Blessing or Curse?

Have you recently had a patient tell you that they looked up “everything” about their condition on the Internet and wanted you to explain every little detail? Or, have you had a patient come to the office with piles of computer printouts, saying, “Why don’t we try this therapy, Doctor?” Or even more common, have you had a patient insist on specific medications they saw advertised on television?

It’s tempting to wish for the “good old days” when all patients accepted their physician’s word and had nowhere else to go for alternative information. However, we live in a time of transition. Since the late 1990s, a patient’s ability to look up medical information online has been firmly established, and the patient/provider relationship will never be the same again.

This change brings with it pluses and minuses. On the negative side, having to explain things you may consider irrelevant consumes precious time. And it may be annoying or cumbersome to explain issues like the medication demanded is not part of the formulary. Providers are learning to accept that.

But there are positive effects, too. New patient communication and workflow offer opportunities to increase revenue and build your practice. Cases abound where physicians have attracted many new patients with electronic medical record systems. Surveys show that patients will change physicians to acquire the convenience of e-mail, computer-based health records, and other electronic communications.

We must realize that the current consumer movement in health care has one underlying motivation: Consumers and patients want more convenience. They don’t want to wait for too long. They do want to use easy e-mail rather than make the inconvenient trip to your office. And more and more of them want to be involved in the care process.

The task of our time is to recognize this and turn it into a business opportunity. The most successful and profitable practices will be those that take advantage of these opportunities to be more responsive to patient preferences and expectations.

C. Peter Waegemann, CEO Medical Records Institute