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Connecting With Patients: A Forgotten Piece Of Medicine

I [recently] visited a small town in west Texas to address a local medical society on the emerging role of social media in healthcare.

My presentation involves social media and the evolving relationship that patients share with doctors. I discuss challenges and opportunities -– especially as it relates to transparency, personal boundaries, and even the ethical obligation to participate in the online conversation. I target the disconnected physician and offer education as well as a compelling argument for involvement.

When I arrived at the venue I found that the meeting was attended predominantly by physicians much older than myself.  While waiting to speak, I was concerned that my message of connection and changing relationships would elicit pushback. After all, isn’t it this era of physicians we hold accountable for paternalism and control in dealing with patients? That’s what I’d been lead to believe.

When the floor was opened for comments, the dialog didn’t center on the latest social media platform. There were lots of questions, but only one involved Twitter. The focus instead was on what had become of us as a profession. The idea of connecting via social media simply drew attention to what was missing in the younger generation of MDs.

One physician shared his own chaotic experience as a patient. And more than personal frustration, his tone reflected heartbreaking disappointment in a profession that would ever let the patient experience come to where it is today.  

At no point did the questions or discussion center around physician control of information or decisions. Never did my illustrations of patient empowerment make anyone indignant.

What I learned from this audience is that physicians were once far more serious about authentic patient connection and advocacy than we give them credit.  Many listening worked at the tail end of a time when the relationship with the sick was sacred. The time, effort, and passion exerted on behalf of the individual patient is something that’s hard to even imagine in our current paradigm of care. It’s a forgotten piece of medical history.

We’re living among a lost generation in medicine. A powerless profession disconnected from its base, wanting and needing to do too much too fast, while dodging the external salvos that have made patient care close to impossible.

I was asked how we bring it back. How do we re-establish that connection with patients? Hopefully I’ll be invited back next year so I can work on my answer.

*This blog post was originally published at 33 Charts*

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