Doctor-Patient Intimacy CAN be Electronic?

Tales from the Treatment Room

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By Dr. David Edward Marcinko MBA CMP®

Today’s electronic mediums make physician-patient communication possible; yet another kind of intimacy. ICTs—information and communication technologies—enable 24/7 monitoring of basic information such as blood pressure, glucose levels, pulse, and respiration.


In one study, an ICT not only made it easier for patients to stay in touch with their doctors, the outcomes were also significantly better.[i] Today, Hippocrates is no longer trailing patients around the house to keep track of their snacks and moods. But Hippocrates has gone digital in the form of a wearable device that records subtle changes in biological markers and communicates them instantaneously to a health provider.

While this is obviously a great advance, we suggest you pause for a moment before plugging in.


ICTs and social media tools can make a difference to one of the most important dimensions—physiological outcomes. But you can have the latest interactive technology at your disposal and still fail to be connected.


A story that a friend told me shows how.


One morning, her elderly father was touching up the paint on his sailboat. Nearby, another boat-owner, who happened to be an emergency medical technician, noticed her father was struggling to breathe and that his lips had turned purple. A trip to the local community hospital led to a barrage of high-tech tests and procedures, a diagnosis of emphysema, later complications with cerebral hematomas, and hospitalizations and re-hospitalizations that brought him into contact with a neurologist, a neurosurgeon, a cardiologist, and a pulmonologist.

Throughout her father’s medical ordeal, the team of specialists stayed in touch with each other and the primary care physician via various electronic media. But one person remained out of the loop—her father. One day, six months into the experience, the primary care physician phoned our friend’s mother to check on his patient. Her father recalls thinking, “Why was he calling her?”

The physician was communicating, but he was emotionally disconnected.


The Moral

The moral of the story: communication needs to be patient-centered in both electronic and psychological terms. That means understanding how someone likes to communicate and making sure the medium fits the message. Electronic media are just part of the equation. The other is the doctor-patient relationship. Once a relationship is established, it may be fine to use e-mail to send information about dosage.

But, delivering a new diagnosis may require the extra effort of scheduling a phone call or a face-to-face visit. Today, since you have so many Health 2.0 choices, it takes some effort to select the right way to communicate in a particular situation.

Use the Right Relationship Strategy

A colleague recently shared another story about an encounter with a specialist.



After an examination for a minor ailment, he was told that there might be a medicated lotion that could ameliorate his condition. The doctor thought for a moment, then swiveled around to the computer on his desk. As our colleague watched the screen, his physician typed a few words into a search engine. Up popped a list and he wrote out a script. “Try this,” his doctor concluded. “I think it will help.”

It did, almost overnight.


The Moral

Even though his physical problem had disappeared completely, our colleague felt there was something missing in the interaction. “It bothered me that my doctor turned to the Web for help at that moment. He found a cure, but I felt he wasn’t paying attention to me.”

The physician is supposed to be an authority who has a special relationship to the patient. “Anybody can Google,” our colleague complained. Was he being unreasonable? Maybe.

But; this story tells us something important about technology—it cuts both ways.





Everyone has their own preferences when it comes to how they want to interact with each other and with technology. If these preferences are explicit and aligned, the chances for a productive partnership are high. The preferences, however, are many and complex. You can easily get lost in the tangled thicket of interpersonal styles and virtual mediums.

In the Web 2.0 environment, it helps to narrow down the endless choices to just a few options.

MORE: Is Text Messaging being Overlooked as an Engagement Tool in Healthcare?


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Speaker: If you need a moderator or speaker for an upcoming event, Dr. David E. Marcinko; MBA – Publisher-in-Chief of the Medical Executive-Post – is available for seminar or speaking engagements. Contact:


[i] Hanson, William M. The Edge of Medicine: The Technology That Will Change Our Lives. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.

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3 Responses

  1. […] for patients to stay in touch with their doctors, the outcomes were also significantly better.[i] Today, Hippocrates is no longer trailing patients around the house to keep track of their snacks […]


  2. “Virtual care is a great ‘relief valve’ to ensure all who need care receive it promptly, especially during cold and flu season”

    Dang Tran MD
    [Physician Executive]
    Minneapolis-based Fairview Heath Services


  3. 66% of Providers Have Noticed a Change in Patient Engagement

    CDW Healthcare
    recently released results from their 2017 Patient Engagement Perspectives Study. Here are some key findings from the report:

    • 69% of patients say they are speaking to healthcare providers more frequently.
    • 7 in 10 patients say they have become more engaged with their healthcare.
    • 3 in 4 patients joined a patient portal offered by a healthcare provider.
    • 66% of providers have noticed a change in patients’ level of engagement.
    • 1 in 8 are working on a way to make personal healthcare records easier to access.
    • 71% say improving patient engagement is a top priority at their organization.

    Source: CDW Healthcare, March 3, 2017


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