The science of medicine has been advancing at a dizzying pace. Medical knowledge has almost doubled every decade. Doctors have been waking up to the fact that they cannot hope to deliver extremely high quality care unless they embrace computerization. Besides information overload, other compelling factors have pressured physicians to transcend their traditional reliance on paper for medical records, research, communications and administration. In the era of managed care, doctors face unprecedented pressure to see more patients, know more about them and apply the most current mode of treatment at the lowest cost. Malpractice claims and insurance rates remain high making accurate record–keeping of paramount concern.
Internationally, there is a definite trend towards the concept of online medical communities. This trend reflects the experience of other professions and industries in which dramatic new consumer demands for electronic services has been viewed as a valuable market opportunity. Online brokers compete successfully with traditional financial houses. Online bookstores compete with bookshops. E–mail has become a universal communication tool for all. So, it’s no surprise that Net–savvy patients and health care professionals would like greater digital access to medical and health information.
The vision of an online medical community that makes available frequently updated, clinically relevant and highly valid medical information on the Net is technically feasible. The success of such a community depends on just one word–involvement. Technical and economic “Involvement” of health care professionals, pharmaceutical companies, academicians, publishers, practitioners, medical societies et al. There surely exists a need for such an online community in Maharashtra.
Some medical websites offer a range of health services including access to advice from health care professionals, medical databases, discussion groups, online personal coaching and virtual pharmacies. The development, study and implementation of these new consumer interfaces in health care systems are emerging as a distinct specialty within medical informatics.
Doctors may find it easier than they think to offer patients their own personalized blend of accessible, top quality online health resources. In addition to welcoming patient e–mail, they could establish their own web pages (No! This is not against medical ethics. It is being done abroad) with answers to frequently asked questions and links to useful and authoritative medical websites. Doctors could also provide biographical information and directories of online support groups.
Clinical competence, care and sensitivity to the needs and preferences of patients have always been a physician’s most prized qualities. And it is precisely this that medicos today are being called upon to juxtapose with the pressing demands of rapid computerization.