Today it is almost routine for patients to tell their doctor that they searched for their own symptoms on Google and – before their appointment – already found a myriad of information leading them to believe they have X condition and should probably follow Y treatment. But how do they know that this information comes from a credible source, and not some Doogie Howser wannabe?
Enter Google. Last week, Google announced that it is teaming up with Mayo Clinic doctors to provide Google searchers with a better at-a-glance experience for medical terminology and condition research. This partnership is only further evidence of what we’re seeing across the healthcare industry: the use of big data and analytics to not only improve patient experience, but also give patients a sense of autonomy when it comes to their personal health care. But as a clinician and entrepreneur, I am compelled to ask: are we going far enough to empower patients to make the right care decisions for themselves and their loved ones?
With an internet connection and a few keystrokes, many of us can access a wealth of personal health information instantaneously. Take the emergence of patient portals and ensuing mobile apps. They not only give us 24/7 access to our health records (including lab results), but also grant us the ability to refill prescriptions, handle bill payments, schedule appointments and even communicate directly with our doctors without nurse and receptionist “middlemen”.
But what happens when a patient, after Googling their condition, needs to find a physician to treat her or provide a second opinion? Should she go and ask her primary care provider? That’s one option. However, oftentimes patients once again turn to online search sites, such as Google, a hospital physician finder, or an insurance website, which – unbeknownst to most users can be plagued with inaccurate provider data. For example, a recent report found that in a search for one of the most basic ailments – “headache” – half of the top U.S. hospitals and health systems’ physician finder websites were unable to identify an appropriate physician for treatment.
While Google and others have taken a commendable first step in arming patients with robust and accurate information, many of these collaborations haven’t taken it far enough. There is still a fundamental disconnect in our ability to distill our healthcare information into action – completing, for a lack of a better term, our new 21st century “circle of care” from the point of search to the point of care.
Despite rapid and undeniable medical advancements (laparoscopic surgery and 3D printing vertebra to name just a few), when it comes to basic digital capabilities the healthcare industry is woefully behind the curve. Currently, none of the 40 top U.S. hospitals or health systems allow patients to schedule their appointments online – a troubling revelation considering that 64 percent of patients expect to book their appointments online in the next four years. Or think about this – have you ever had to wait 45 days to book a flight that you were hoping to take in one week? Probably not. Have you ever tried to see a doctor within a week and instead had to wait 45 days? Probably so. Consumers increasingly – and reasonably – expect the same interactivity and accuracy with their healthcare that they already experience in other aspects of their lives: travel, retail, etc.
The next critical step for the healthcare industry is to work out how to distill these algorithms and data into actionable insight in order to deliver services and promote patient engagement in an efficient and accurate way. We have the right tools at our fingertips, it’s time we bridge the gap for the sake of patient access.