mHealth VP: Healthcare communications should be more virtual

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C. Peter Waegemann, MD, vice president for development for mHealth, spoke with CMIO about the necessity of new communication patterns in healthcare, a topic on which he presented during the International mHealth Networking Conference Feb. 3-4 in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the Boston-based healthcare organization mHealth Initiative.

“What we are proposing is that new communication technologies will have the largest impact on healthcare in the next five years,” Waegemann stated. Believing communication to have a greater impact than nanotechnology or DNA developments, Waegemann said the impact of communication technologies in the next five years “will be disruptive."

One of the main points of discussion at the conference is the need for new communication management, Waegemann stated. “Some doctors are afraid of information overflow because of the potential to receive 500 emails a day, so we need a system where someone is managing the priority of emails for the doctor and what is going into them.”

The push for communication initiatives is being driven by two forces: the patients and the potential to increase efficiency in hospitals and clinics, explained Waegemann. “It’s an economics push. The doctors feel overworked and that they are not making enough money,” said Waegemann. “By having communication, you can be much more efficient.”

The main problem, Waegemann suggested, is a system where physicians and practitioners provide patient care without previous knowledge of a patient’s medical history. “Any clinician should be fully informed of their patient's condition and a visit every couple of weeks cannot do justice to a patient’s complete experience,” Waegemann said.

“No patient should call the doctor to convey their symptoms. The patient should ideally communicate their symptoms through email, where the physician should recommend appropriate home tests,” said Waegemann. Although he acknowledges that there is some push back from physicians, who receive reimbursements from phyisical visits, Waegemann said there needs to be regulatory adjustments to change this.

Currently in the provider/patient realm of communication, Waegemann said that a number of hospitals and clinics have begun utilizing good-will notices to great fanfare for young-adult patients. “Just asking them ‘How are you today?’ on daily basis makes the difference to them to know that their provider cares and they can schedule an appointment if they are feeling bad,” said Waegemann.

The place of care is not the doctor’s office anymore; it’s a virtual arena where the doctor is the conductor of participatory care, Waegemann said.

“All of this [is] in the embryonic, early stages. It going to take a lot of behavioral and management changes,” stated Waegemann. He cited the iPhone as a benchmark for the unpredictability of how technological devices will affect the healthcare industry.

Waegemann said that two challenges to this new form of communication would be older physicians and elderly patients resisting new technology use in the field. “In many ways, it’s a generational system,” Waegemann stated. “Physicians 35 years old or younger generally want to use tablets and other mobile devices while physicians over 55 maybe at least somewhat hesitant." 

"It will be a challenge for everyone to adjust to these new series of complexities, as the lines of communication become more mobile,” concluded Waegemann.