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MedicinMan January 2013
Medical Communication in the 21 Century
Dr. Neelesh Bhandari
ealthcare has been changing in drifts and shifts over the past few
The drift can possibly be pinned from 1600s when medicine
came to be widely accepted as an expertise separate from religion. The subsequent centuries saw us drifting into a scientific
understanding of disease and its causes. The first dramatic shift
came with the discovery of antibiotics in 1930s. We now had
pills which could cure giant killer diseases and this led to the
rise of a new behemoth, the Pharmaceutical industry. With regular discovery and later inventions of newer drugs, power seemingly concentrated with the Physician- the drug dispenser. The
healthcare ecosystem settled into a physician centric system,
with the doctor exercising complete power over the patient and
all other stakeholders revolving around the doctor. This was
always an unstable ecosystem because of the power imbalance
among the stakeholders and the coming of internet has upset the
traditional positions irrevocably.
The internet was the second major shift. Tim Berners-Lee
(father of Internet) made the biggest financial sacrifice in recent
times when he refused to patent his hyper text transfer protocol
and instead threw it open for the Aam Aadmi. Ordinary people
used this new found power of instant low cost communication in
wonderfully diverse ways and healthcare social media was born.
People realized the power of information and sought more of it.
This new communication platform totally changed the way
healthcare stakeholders talked to each other. Lately, the patient
has taken his rightful place as the center of the new healthcare
ecosystem, with all other stakeholders working to woo that customer. The recent regulations regarding generic medications will
only strengthen this new position. Since patient, and not the
doctor, will now make the purchasing decision, all stakeholders
in this ecosystem (Pharma, labs, hospitals) need to reconsider
their strategies and focus on the true consumer.
Many savvy entrepreneurs have already smelt the coffee.
Now, many stages of healthcare services can be accessed
online. You can track your health using Smartphone apps
and websites. When unwell, you can check your symptoms
to arrive at a presumptive diagnosis online. It‟s easy to
search for a suitable physician in your geographical area
who you might want to consult. Compare rates and services
at various hospitals. Book your appointments. Receive your
lab reports and prescriptions in the comfort of home. Join
social support groups and get information about alternate
treatments or therapies. Store all your health records digitally and get second opinions from anywhere in the world.
Doctors can monitor their patients remotely and even tweak
treatments from a distance. They can discuss treatments and
obtain referrals in secure online platforms. The effect of
Internet and social media is just too huge to be ignored.
To borrow an analogy from Jed Weissberg, MD, Senior
Vice at Kaiser Permanente, the Choluteca Bridge is a metaphor for today's healthcare ecosystem. The Choluteca
Bridge was built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in
1930 with design strength to withstand the worst of hurricanes that affected the area. When Hurricane Mitch came in
1998, it destroyed 150 Honduran bridges, but not the Choluteca Bridge. Instead, the storm rerouted the Choluteca
River. This rendered the huge, strong and beautiful bridge
useless as it served no purpose in the changed environment.
The true potential of healthcare social media has not even
been scratched on its surface yet. The focus on cloud computing and Big data can work wonders in the field of medical communications. At Digital MedCom solutions, we
currently tag 25,000 Indian physicians via weekly emails
and popular social media platforms. Our aim to have an
active social database of all 500,000 practicing Indian physicians (or at least the approx. 250,000 active onliners)
within the next 2 years is not as farfetched as it may seem.
All the stakeholders in healthcare, except the patient, seem
to be ignoring social media at present. Unless steps are taken to remedy this inertia, traditional pharmaceutical industry is destined to go the Choluteca Bridge way.▌
Dr. Neelesh Bhandari is the founder and Chief
consulting officer at Digital MedCom solutions,
India‟s first healthcare social media agency. You
can contact him via email (firstname.lastname@example.org)
or Twitter (@edrneelesh).