Emerging healthcare technologies are turning the patient experience on its head. Artificial intelligence engines such as IBM Watson and Deontics are linking doctors with clinical guidelines to make the best possible decision on a patient’s care, at the first time of asking. Healthcare and medical apps are providing patients with information to influence their care, also known as “do it yourself” care.

More information means better and efficient care. Everyone’s a winner, right?

Away from healthcare, the consumer-provider relationship can almost always benefit if information is used in the right way. Customers say what they want, how they want it, and companies work out how best to deliver it. After customer expectations have been met or exceeded, a relationship is built on trust.

But information that is used poorly can be a detriment. For example, a car owner questions his/her regular, long-serving mechanic’s recommendation to replace a faulty clutch. Online forums suggest some symptoms and remedies but are they specific to the model, year of manufacturer, number of miles on the clock? The relationship becomes strained, but the car owner is entitled to challenge the recommendation.

This type of scenario is becoming more commonplace in the NHS as patient access to digital health via online information or data captured from smart phones and ‘wearables’ rises.

In the US, 20 per cent of patients come prepared for a doctor’s appointment with personal health data from outside monitors. This information is asking more questions of the most appropriate care or clinical decision, but is it asking the right ones? Are they in fact undermining doctors?

I can’t answer how doctors feel about using patient-generated data for clinical decisions. But I sense that the “doctors versus robots” debate will continue as new patient-facing and doctor-facing innovative technologies are launched.

An insightful presentation by Dr Herbert Chase, professor of clinical medicine in biomedical informatics at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University concludes on his belief that no matter how far technology evolves, doctors will always play an important role in our care. But machines are necessary to make healthcare smarter, reduce error and improve efficiency.

Healthcare technology systems that support the doctor in making more-informed medical decisions, via access to information such as national clinical guidelines, patient medical history and past prescriptions, is the first step in building trust within a patient-doctor relationship. It supports a doctor’s recommendation based on wider access to information and his or her experience in clinical practice.

Mobile healthcare will come into prominence this year but much is still to be defined in terms of authenticating apps for clinical use. The recent launch of the NHS mental health app library has been warmly welcomed by industry.

And what about patient data? Concerns remain around ownership and governance. Lisa Saxon, chief of cardiovascular medicine at the Keck School, USC, shares a more relaxed view suggesting that Facebook should have our medical data to “allow doctors to do their jobs more effectively”.

Embracing technology can have massive benefits for patients, but only by working with doctors and not against them. After all, did you know that doctors are the most-trusted profession among the general public since 1983?

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