Bridging the gap for doctors in digital era

Every year July 1 is observed as National Doctors’ Day in India to express gratitude and acknowledge their dedication and commitment towards our society. The observance of the day honours legendary physician and West Bengal’s second chief minister, Dr Bidhan Chandra Roy whose birth and death anniversary coincide with the day. 

“The presence of the doctor is the beginning of the cure,” they say. In the current day and age, a wave of digitisation has taken over the world. All emerging technologies like Artificial Intelligence, machine learning, electronic health records and others are helping people live a better and easier life. The good thing is, the healthcare industry has benefited immensely from digitisation.

It got a further boost when Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in 2015, launched the ‘Digital India’ campaign. Be it online appointments, tele-consultation, in-home healthcare, genome-focused R&D, or alternate medicine consults, digital facilities can cater to a wide range of healthcare needs.

One of the biggest contributions, a boon even, to doctors has been “big data in healthcare” which offers abundant health data amassed from numerous sources including electronic health records (EHRs), medical imaging, genomic sequencing, payor records, pharmaceutical research, wearables and medical devices, to name a few.

It is available in extraordinarily high volume; it moves at high velocity and spans the health industry’s massive digital universe; and, because it is derived from many sources, it is highly variable in structure and nature.

Doctors want to understand as much as they can about a patient and as early in their life as possible, to pick up warning signs of serious illness as they arise — treating any disease at an early stage is far simpler and less expensive.

Kilkari, an initiative by the MOHFW, offers and delivers free weekly, time-appropriate 72 audio messages about pregnancy, child birth and child care delivery to families’ mobile phones. Approximately six crore successful calls have been made so far under Kilkari in Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand.

Digitisation is not only time-saving but also helps in analysing complicated high risk pregnancies and the way forward when it comes to maternal and child health.

These days, the way consumers and patients are engaging with healthcare organisations is also evolving. They are not only looking for providers to share healthcare information, but are also actively engaged with providers through mobile apps, fitness trackers and specialised patient portals.

Another area which needs attention is “violence against doctors” in India. At policy level, low budgetary spending on health, high out-of-pocket expenditure, lack of facilities in government hospitals and overworked doctors lead to violence. The perception that all doctors are profiteers adds to that.

Recently, in April, the Delhi government had also passed a charter that has directed all its hospitals to file an institutional FIR in case of violence against doctors or medical staff. It is indeed sad to learn that doctors have become a soft target for the inefficient health system with poor or no public health or preventive health. General public needs to be educated on the how doctors generally practice and operate in India.

While the importance of a doctor being a people’s person might not have been given much attention in the past, I think today it helps if a doctor is empathetic and has a certain level of social and self-awareness so that ultimately she/he is able to better understand and respond to a patient’s frailties, fears and aspirations.

From a clinical perspective, when a doctor has been treating a patient for a long duration, over time she/he is able to recognise behavioural patterns and disease trends in the patient and the patient’s family and might be in a better position to prevent certain diseases and conditions.

Each year, India and several other countries observe Doctors’ Day to acknowledge their valuable role in improving the lives of their patients. This Doctors’ Day, my message to my fellow doctors is that they should make a conscious effort to cultivate a relationship with their patients as that can have a profound impact on both medical and social outcomes and, to patients, to trust doctors and not abuse them for the system's failures.

(The writer is founder-chairman and neonatologist, Cloudnine Group of Hospitals, Bengaluru)

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