When Will Doctors Teach Patients to Not Come In for a Visit?

Posted on July 8, 2016 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

I’ve been thinking and writing a lot about the shifting medical reimbursement world. Technology is going to be an enabler for much of this shift and so understanding the changes are going to be key to understanding what technology will be needed to facilitate these changes.

As part of this thinking, I recently wondered when a doctor will start teaching patients when they shouldn’t come for a visit. I realize this is a bit of a tricky space since our current liability laws scare doctors from providing this kind of information. Dealing with these liability laws will be key to this shift, but if we want to lower the cost of healthcare and improve the patient experience, we need to make this change.

Turns out, we already do this in healthcare, but it’s not so formal. Plus, it’s usually the older, more experienced doctors that do it (from my experience). I think the older doctors do this for a couple unique reasons. First, hey’ve had years of experience and so the patterns of when someone should go to a doctor or not are very clear to them since they’ve seen it over and over for 30 years. Second, they aren’t as worried about patients returning in the future, so they’re not afraid to educate the patient on when they shouldn’t come for a visit. Third, these older doctors are likely tired of seeing patients for something that’s totally unnecessary.

We’ve had an older pediatrician that did this for us and our children and we loved the experience. In some ways, I think he just liked to hear himself talk and we loved it as parents. There’s no handbook you get as a parent and so we wanted to learn as much as possible about how to take care of our child. Since we had 4 children, we were able to use that knowledge pretty regularly, but even so, it was hard to remember 6 months or a year later what the doctor had told us. It was all very clear when he explained it in the exam room, but remember when to take them to the doctor and when to wait it out was often forgotten 6 months later.

The decision of when to go to the doctor and when not to go to the doctor is always a challenge and I always forget when I should and when I shouldn’t. Far too often my wife and I error on the side of caution and take our kids in for needless visits. We don’t want to be irresponsible parents and not take them. With my own personal health, I likely wait too long to go to the doctor because I’m busy or I can just tough it out when a quick visit to the doctor would make my life better and avoid something worse.

I guess this is why we see so many health decision tree apps out there. They try and take the collective knowledge and help you as a potential patient know if you should go in for the doctor visit or not. However, most of them are really afraid to make a hard conclusion that you shouldn’t go to the doctor. Instead, they all end with some sort of disclaimer about not providing medical advice and that you should consult a healthcare professional for medical advice. I’m not sure how we overcome the liability of really offering a recommendation that doesn’t need the disclaimer. Although, this is exactly what many of us need.

What do you see as the pathway forward? Will the consumer health apps be our guide as patients? Will doctors start spending time educating us on when to come for an office visit and when not to come? Will they want to do this thanks to ACOs and other value based reimbursement? Will doctors leverage the consumer health apps or a PHR tool to help their patients with retention of the concepts they teach them about when to come in for a visit?