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What Do Patients Really Want?

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The Doctor/Patient Relationship

What do patients want? Despite the technological promises of the Health 2.0 movement, in some ways it's really no different today than it was forty years ago.

An article that appeared in Time Magazine on May 13, 1966 says:

Today, Americans get far better medical care than ever before; as for the rest [of the doctor-patient relationship], they are often lucky to get as much as a hurried smile. The result is a troubling paradox: at a time when medical skill has reached new pinnacles, the doctor-patient relationship has badly deteriorated. It is a situation that both irritates the patient and worries the medical profession.

In 2009, it's much the same: Patients today often feel rushed during the "seven minute" office visit. They feel the doctor-patient relationship is dwindling since there's not much time to communicate. And they crave attention. They have questions and they want answers.

I recently attended the Health 2.0 Meets IX conference in Boston where the overall theme was how to engage patients. According to those at the conference, doctors want their patients to be proactive and they are learning that communicating, collaboration and partnering with their patients are critical.

A lot of the talk was about how technology can help: patients can connect with doctors via social networks and e-mail, they can connect with each other, and all sorts of devices can provide treatment and diagnostic information that will make care more efficient.

But none of that changes the underlying need for connection between patient and doctor.

"Patients and physicians must be partners in the patient's health. To do this requires mutual respect. It comes down to listening, communicating and understanding," says Dr. Daniel Z. Sands, Director of Medical Informatics at Cisco IBSG and a primary care physician at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

Back to 1966:

In a word, the U.S. medical profession is trying hard to get back to a principle as old as Hippocrates'; it is rediscovering that there is still healing power in the laying on of hands. In an area where the stakes are life and death, but where the modern doctor knows that nothing is finally certain, he can still only say to his patient: "Trust me." Today's patient, who is sophisticated enough to realize his doctor's limitations, is willing to extend that trust--but in return he wants some understanding and sympathy, the vital ingredients that nowadays are too often missing. That exchange should be a compact between the patient and his doctor. It is a compact less complete than the old one, which was based on the patient's total faith and on far less knowledge, but it is a more realistic one.

Patients don't just want to engage with doctors and nurses via social networking sites and new technologies. They also value face-to-face connection, collaboration and respect.

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