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The Transition From The Analog Physician To The Digital Physician

While most of us fail to see it, doctors are changing.  We’re changing as a result of the social and technological innovation.  In 2050 what we do and how we do it will be very different from what we did at the turn of the century.  We’re evolving from analog to digital. I think it’s important to consider the ‘digital physician’ as a concept worthy of attention.  The training and support of this emerging prototype has to meet its different needs and workflows. Perhaps the criteria by which we choose medical students should take into consideration the anticipated skill sets and demands of this next generation.  And we need hard information about the digital physician and her habits.

Here are some differences between the digital and analog physician:

The digital physician

  1. Information consumption is web-based
  2. Rarely uses a pen.  Care and correspondence is conducted through an EMR.
  3. Socially connected.  Comfortable with real time dialog at least on a peer-to-peer level.  Recognizes the inevitable role of synchronous digital dialog between doctor and patient.
  4. E-patient centric.  Recognizes the sovereignty of the patient and recognizes their access to information as a critical asset to care.
  5. Mobile dependent. Sees the ability to provide patient care as dependent upon a smart phone or tablet.
  6. Uses digital tools to control inputs. Has web-based mechanisms in place to help curate information and other inputs from various sources.

The analog physician

  1. Consumes information through paper books and journals.  Often overheard saying curious things like, “I like the smell of paper” or “I’ve gotta be able to hold it.”
  2. Still use paper charts.  While she may interface with computers, her care is coordinated and facilitate via the manual exchange of ink on pulp.  Illegible prescriptions are seen as a badge of honor.
  3. Has little to no social presence. Either doesn’t understand the value of engagement or is driven by fear.  Sees no obligation to participate in social dialog or content creation.
  4. Physician centric.  Sees physician as the core provider of information.  Care delivery centered as much on the needs and demands of the physician as the patient.
  5. Smart phone has no real role in her provision of care. Even the simplest point of care queries are done through dog-eared manuals kicking around the work area.  May be overheard lamenting AT&T’s discontinued support the Motorola StarTac.
  6. Core inputs are snail mail box and email.  Can be heard giggling, “If it’s not in my ‘in box’ I’ll never see it.”

This transition is happening to very slowly and most of us remain analog doctors in a digital world.  But that won’t last.  The natives are arriving.  In July I met my first intern who had never worked in a paper chart. Are you digital or analog?  What else defines the digital physician?

*This blog post was originally published at 33 Charts*


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