Present with the patient were several family members, one of whom asked insightful and technical questions about home and hospice care. After a few minutes, I asked her if she worked in healthcare since she seemed to know so much. She pointed to the iPad in her lap and said, “No, but I have an iPad”.
No, but I have an iPad. We all know technology has become a big part of our lives. As access to the internet increases through the proliferation of devices like smart phones and tablets, more people go online looking for health information. This is particularly the case for those with a recent medical crisis, 65% of whom seek health information online versus the 55% of those not experiencing a crisis (http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2011/Social-Life-of-Health-Info.aspx). However, beyond education about an illness, there is some evidence that people go online because they don’t get the information they need from their healthcare providers. One survey found that people were more likely to go online for information if they felt that their communication with providers was less patient-centered http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=21154093
That leaves those of us who do actually work in healthcare with several opportunities:
- Identify information needs- Clinicians need to determine how much and what patients with serious illness want and need to know. Although people go online for information, they prefer to get it from their healthcare providers.
- Suggest online resources- To supplement the information we provide in person, we need to suggest good online resources for patients and families interested in getting even more information. There are wonderful medical sites available, so you should know the key ones for your area of practice.
- Encourage prepared patients- We need to be open to the fact that some patients and families will come in fully informed and we need to support that. My acknowledgement of this family member’s expertise supported her efforts to help. And, as a result of those efforts, the patient and family knew enough about hospice that we could discuss the specifics of their situation.
So, as we all become more and more dependent on technology, we need to modify our clinical practice accordingly. However, good care will always involve personal interaction. We can’t just leave patients and families to their own devices.