One of the things I find strange about the patient-doctor relationship is how readily we as patients place our trust in people who are complete strangers. The white coat and the stethoscope draped roguishly around the neck have become universally accepted signs that this person knows what is best for us and should be trusted to investigate, handle, and even operate on the most intimate possession we have, our bodies.
Wouldn’t it be more comfortable all around if there was more of a getting-to-know-you phase to the relationship? Not just for those of us a little sensitive to people getting that close to our personal space, but also to build a more typically human relationship with the person trained to potentially save our lives.
A group of Maryland doctors agree with this idea enough to have introduced a new form of doctor-patient introduction via video conference. Their idea could be rolled out across the medical spectrum to ease a patient’s transition into a new medical relationship.
Meeting Your Doctor Online
Obviously there’s not much time for small talk if you enter the medical system through the emergency room. What the staff at Union Hospital, Elkton, have in mind comes into play after things have calmed somewhat and you the patient are ready to move on to the next phase of your recovery.
They’re using an American Nurses Credentialing Center Pathway Award grant of $25,000 to equip their wards with iPads, webcams, and TVs hooked up to video conferencing units so that patients can meet the staff who’ll be looking after them at their next destination. That destination could be a different department within the same hospital or an outside specialist.
Their official goal is to improve the safety and quality of care patients receive during these “handoffs,” but the most immediate benefit I can see is it reduces the anxiety about the next phase of treatment. Nurses get to meet the person behind the digital case history, and the patient gets to see a (hopefully) friendly face rather than just an address or a new contact number.
That would make me feel a lot better about what’s going on around me. It would be even better if I could get a little tour of the new place as well.
A Preview of the Care to Come
What’s most impressive about the Union Hospital plan is the variety of video calling equipment they’re preparing to introduce. I’ve generally thought of hospitals as conservative places where all the technology is kept in the operating room while the patients get the same shared TVs and adjustable beds that seem to have been with us forever.
Embracing a mobile video option like an iPad, however, gives the staff at the new location a chance to take their incoming patient on a walk around. They’d be able to show you exactly where you’ll be lying during your stay, maybe introduce you to some of your future neighbours, and show off the wall decorations in their common and visitor areas.
Even if I’m going to be on my back the entire time, it would be nice to see what the hospital or center at large looks like, rather than being quickly wheeled past some twitching curtains and deposited into an anonymous room.
Hopefully those webcams and iPads will be available to us patients during our stay as well, so we can stay in face-to-face contact with our friends and family without making them trek into the hospital every day.
The real innovation, though, is in exploring a new way to transition from one point of care to another. Hopefully that’ll extend right through to the final stage when I’m back home and visiting specialists and going through any follow-up care, like therapy.
Moving from Hospital to Home with Video Calling
It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to let patients make their introductions to others who’ll be treating and caring for them, while they’re still bedridden in the hospital. Like the internal transition, it would make things a lot less intimidating if you had at least met some of these people, who, depending on your needs, may even be dropping in on you at home.
For this to happen, you don’t need the latest 3D video platform or the kind of hologram technology that can resurrect departed popstars. Video conferencing works best when it recreates the intimacy of human contact, and you could achieve that with the use of a simple webcam and a solid Skype connection.
Wouldn’t you feel better about your situation if you knew the doctor treating you was a Dodgers fan? Or that the patients at the next ward actually recommended the food? Or that your nurse knows you’ll need the TV switched to Dancing with the Stars every week? Little touches like that take your mind off your medical predicament and make the hospital experience that much less sterile.
If only it could make those stethoscopes warmer.