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DOCtalk by Dr. Gregg 10/14/11

October 14, 2011 News No Comments

The Future Comes at a Cost

I’d like to join the choir, just for a minute, to sing the dirge of the funereal march for Steve Jobs. Whatever issues folks may have with Apple or iTunes or even Mr. Jobs himself, it is undeniable that he changed our world in an uncommonly broad-sweeping way. I’m not so sure the Edison or Da Vinci comparisons fit, but he was certainly an inspirational powerhouse for our age and a true visionary. Such visionaries are rare, wonderful creatures. Steve’s vision helped us all see the future more clearly.

Speaking of the future, I’ve been underwater preparing for this year’s “Pediatric Office of the Future” (POF) annual exhibit at the American Academy of Pediatrics – National Conference& Exhibition. (Pardon me a minute while I crow.) Its growth has been phenomenal – over 500% in five years – and now features tech tools for all three “offices” where pediatricians work: outpatient, inpatient, and mobile. With 31 sponsors, including some of the biggest companies in HIT and/or the US, we’ve added loads more space and oodles more “toys” including telemedicine, robots (yes, plural), hospital gadgets, patient engagement & education, “personal HIE,” after-hours support, social media savvy, mobile gizmos, an additional “Hospital of the Future” booth, the new “Mobile” zone, and on and on. It should be a great show.

One of the coolest things we were able to add this year is the new Tech Talk Theater, featuring experts giving 15-minute “hit-and-run” talks at the top and bottom of every hour each day during the exhibition.

Of course, all this comes at some cost. Not to the attendees and not to our many generous sponsors. Well, OK, attendees have to pay to come to the convention and sponsors, well, they sponsor. But, the cost to which I referred is the cost to your humble narrator. And that cost is one which I think many of my colleagues will also have to pay in the near, if not immediate, future.

While HIT wonks and gurus are mostly focused upon getting docs digitized these days, one of the associated facets of going electronic involves meeting those digital demands and exploding expectations from increasingly savvy “e-patients.” To wit: social media.

I admit to being a bit behind in social media savoir faire: I infrequently Facebook, don’t DIGG, find much of YouTube blatantly bland, and am mindlessly missing something in my Motorola Photon’s Motoblur. I am LinkedIn, have Tweeted a tad, and have a practice web presence. (I’ve not implemented a patient portal yet as I didn’t like the existing interface of the one from my dying EHR, though I am looking forward to that functionality in my next system – still TBD.)

So why do I say that social media sense is a cost which my colleagues must soon bear? Two main reasons…

Number one: a great colleague sort of forced me to get friendly with Facebook and YouTube and to become even more of a Tweeter (more of a Twit?) by setting up such sites for the POF and then handing me the reins. He had done some of the basics, but he’s maybe even less social media literate than I, and it took a fair amount of doing to bring them to some sense of life. The learning curve is not steep, but it takes time. And time is one of the least available resources most docs have. (My efforts here and here. I’m sure they are amateurish, but it’s my beginning. Oh … and Tweets are from @PedsOfficeFutur.)

Number two: I have been happily watching the development of an amazing new tool, HealthTap. This very clever physician-patient facilitator platform is phenomenal. Not only does it help you reach your patients, expanding your educational outreach and practice marketing power, but it also provides immediate access to thousands of colleagues across all specialties whose real world experience and expert insights are like a multitude of mini curbside consults at your fingertips, on demand.

I’ve found these experiences enlightening – and powerful. I want to do more with all of them. But engaging with these social media tools in order to engage with patients and colleagues comes with the aforementioned cost: the cost of time (and some pre-mastery frustration.)

With all of the demands upon a physician’s time these days, from going electronic to getting social and then to all of that actual patient care and practice management stuff, it gets a mite overwhelming, even for a staunchly geekoid guy like me. I admit to some moments of aggravation and annoyance as I try to become knowledgeable about tools with which many of my patients and their parents are already quite adept. I’m guessing my colleagues have had, or will soon have, similar SMS (“Social Media Stress”) as we move beyond “going digital” into that great new future towards which we strive, where technology is merely background noise that is taken for granted in our day-to-day chores, not a focus of our daily duties.

That’s the future envisioned and so admirably enabled by Mr. Jobs. Personally, I look forward to it, regardless of the cost.

From the trenches…

“Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me. Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful, that’s what matters to me.” – Steve Jobs

(Rest, Steve. Well done.)

Dr. Gregg Alexander, a grunt in the trenches pediatrician at Madison Pediatrics, is Chief Medical Officer for Health Nuts Media, directs the Pediatric Office of the Future exhibit for the American Academy of Pediatrics, and sits on the board of directors of the Ohio Health Information Partnership (OHIP).

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