In collaboration with the Australian Medical Students Association (ASMA), Medshop Australia recently held a competition asking for participants to submit a short piece of writing based on a choice of 4 topics relating to medicine and healthcare. One of these topics was the future of doctors and their relationship with technology, the topic that 2nd place winner Natalie Puchalski chose to write about. It is with great pleasure that we are able to share Natalie's excellent work with you, our readers. Congratulations Natalie, we now hand over to you.
The Future of Doctors and their Relationship with Technology
Technology has had a significant and diverse impact on the world of medicine and is set to revolutionise the field for decades to come. The future role of doctors will rely on acknowledging, understanding and utilising innovations that are changing the various dimensions of the profession: information access, patient assessment and treatment. The internet has had a dramatic effect on access to information and the ability of clinicians to network and communicate with other professionals, as well as members of the public.
The way doctors assess their patients is also being enhanced with improvements in services and tools minimising physical barriers to healthcare access and allowing better monitoring of patient health. Lastly, technology is transforming the treatment for patients, leading to better health outcomes for the community.
The growth of the internet has led to the development of 'information age health care'. (1) Doctors can more easily access a broader range of knowledge through websites, journals, databases, forums, as well as social platforms. Not only are clinicians benefiting from this improved access to information, patients are also utilising these resources in an effort to become more informed and autonomous in personal health issues. International research found that nearly 80 per cent of Australians seek health information online, with almost half of these individuals looking for information to self-diagnose. (2)
The information patients obtain online themselves is in turn impacting on aspects such as their decisions about treatment, questions they ask their doctor, as well as how they take care of themselves. (3) While doctors have traditionally functioned as 'gatekeepers' to medical information, (4) greater universal access to information is leading to a more shared decision-making model, where doctors can instead provide recommended sources and help patients evaluate the quality of medical information online. (5)
Accessibility to health care is another area of medicine being increased by technology. Australia is seeing a rise in telehealth, which is the remote management and delivery of health care through information technology. (6) Telehealth services, such as videoconference doctor consultations, provide timely access to health services and specialists, and also help train and support remote healthcare workers. (7) Such an initiative is having the greatest benefit in rural locations lacking particular medical specialists, as well as Indigenous Australian communities in remote areas. (8)
In addition, clinicians are now able to monitor aspects of their patient's health even when those individuals are not present in the clinic. Some of the devices being utilised in this way include heart rate monitors, glucose level monitors, incontinence sensors and haemodialysis monitors. The use of such technologies is contributing to earlier detection of abnormalities, reduced hospitalisations and significant improvements in health-related quality of life. (9)
Perhaps one of the greatest impacts of technology for doctors is the way it is being utilised in the treatment and management of patients. The domain of surgery is being enhanced due to innovations such as robotic surgical consoles, which can allow doctors to perform minimally invasive surgery and even perform surgery without being in the same room as the patient. (10) In addition, while there is currently limited proven application, stem cell therapy has also been highlighted as an area for future development. (11)
Three-dimensional printing also has several future applications in medicine, including: tissue and organ fabrication (e.g. ear, heart valves, spinal disc), creation of prosthetics and implants and anatomical models for surgical preparation. (12) While this technology is still in its infancy, it is expected to play a significant role in the move toward personalised medicine with its ability to tailor results to individual needs. (13)
It is evident that technology has the power to significantly impact on the medical profession in various ways: from changing the way professionals and patients obtain and share information, to increasing the accessibility of medical services, as well as improving treatment of patients. While uptake of these technological advancements also relies on factors such as further training and financial considerations, doctors who are able to adapt, understand and utilise these technologies can help lead the way to more efficient, reliable and accessible medical services for the community.
(1) Smith R. The future of healthcare systems. BMJ 1997; 314: 1495.
(2) Bupa. Aussies turning to cyberspace to self-diagnose. http://www.bupa.com.au/about-us/media-centre/media-releases/ci.aussies-turning-to-cyberspace-to-self…; 9 Feb 2011. [Accessed Sep 2015].
(3) Fox S, Rainie L. Pew Internet and American life Project. The online health care revolution. http://www.pewinternet.org/2000/11/26/the-online-health-care-revolution; 26 Nov 2000 [Accessed Sep 2015].
(4) Arora NK. Interacting with cancer patients: the significance of physicians’ communication behavior. Soc Sci Med 2003; 57(5): 791- 806.
(5) Diaz JA, Griffith RA, Ng JJ, et al. Patients' use of the internet for medical information. J Gen Intern Med 2002; 17(3): 180-185.
(6) Altman L, Fernando S, Holt S, et al. One in Four Lives – The Future of Telehealth in Australia. AIIA, Sydney, March 2014.
(7) National Rural Health Alliance Inc. Ehealth and teleheath in rural and remote Australia. http://ruralhealth.org.au/sites/default/files/publications/nrha-factsheet-ehealth.pdf; Aug 2013. [Accessed Sep 2015].
(8) Bursell S, Jenkins AJ, Brazionis L, et al. Telehealth in Australia: An evolution in heath care services. Med J Aust 2013; 199(1): 23-24.
(9) Medical Technology Association of Australia. A telehealth strategy for Australia: supporting patients in the community. http://www.mtaa.org.au/docs/position-papers/supporting-a-telehealth-strategy-for-australia-release-v…; May 2012 [Accessed Sep 2015].
(10) Satava RM. How the future of surgery is changing: Robotics, telesurgery, surgical simulators and other advanced technologies. depts.washington.edu/surg/biointel/Future-of-Surgery-0606.pdf; May 2006. [Accessed Sep 2015].
(11) The National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia. The Australian Stem Cell Handbook. http://www.stemcellfoundation.net.au/docs/patient-handbook/australian-stem-cell-handbook-2015_april.…; Apr 2015. [Accessed Sep 2015].
(12) Ventola CL. Medical Applications for 3D Printing: Current and Projected Uses. P T 2014; 39(10): 704-711.
(13) Banks J. Adding value in additive manufacturing: Researchers in the United Kingdom and Europe look to 3D printing for customization. IEEE Pulse 2013; 4(6): 22–26.