Will Things Really Get Worse for Doctors Online?

April 5, 2012

The more I read the more warnings I hear about doctors online.  It seems that as more doctors interact online, the more problems we can expect to encounter.  According to authorities, things are about to get worse for all of us.  Imagine the clinical chaos we can expect come 2050.

Or maybe not.

The problem with this pessimistic view is what Matt Ridley has referred to as extrapolationism: the assumption that the future is just a bigger version of the past.  What’s bad now will be worse later.

But as history has taught us, the future is not simply an extension of the past.  We have a remarkable capacity to correct ourselves.

Going forward:

  • Doctors will learn from experience.
  • Digital professionalism will be part of every medical student’s curriculum
  • We’ll be smarter.

So pay no attention to the apocaholics who have hijacked the public discourse on doctors and social media.   And don’t expect the sky to fall any time soon.

For a realistic view of the future of the human race, read Matt Ridley’s The Rational Optimist.


John Lynn April 5, 2012 at 8:00 pm

We’ve become a society where the majority rules the minority. I think we often forget that for the most part people are good and want to do good. However, the headlines read better if you tell the stories of bad.

Simon Sikorski, M.D. Twitter: @SimonSikorskiMD April 5, 2012 at 9:15 pm

Well said Bryan!

Jim Salwitz April 6, 2012 at 11:30 am

I hope that we find lots and lots of problems … after all there is much in health care that needs to be fixed. I think with any disruptive technology, there are those that are going to feel disrupted. Try telling a 2nd year resident that because of the online world, the future of medicine looks bleak. That resident knows intuitively that medicine will be saved via computer based technology. It is a massive change, but the net will absolutely be positive.


Alex April 6, 2012 at 12:03 pm

I can say that at least in the most current medical school class at UW – there has been NO instruction devoted to digital professionalism (aside from telling us not to post negative things about faculty or eachother).

I actually think it should be more explicit – in that we should be instructed at how to use an online presence for both personal and patient benefit, how to manage ourselves for maximum gain, and how to eliminate potential downsides. Either that or every medical student should be assigned an “online medical manager” like an agent for showbiz.

DrV April 6, 2012 at 12:08 pm

We’re creating a core curriculum at Baylor. It will likely be public/available. Perhaps you could lead the charge at UW. I suspect that going forward we will need reverse mentoring to bring the academic world forward.

And I would love your input on what we’re doing.

Matt Handley MD April 6, 2012 at 12:43 pm

Our group (about 300 docs in primary care) does over 30% of all primary care visits online. We are several years past our “approach anxiety” issues. Now a system property, and a much more patient centered world. The sky did not fall.

Erick Kinuthia April 7, 2012 at 12:13 am

Very encouraging. I think doctors being online is for the better of us all. Won’t it be great when doctors get to know about the negative statements posted about them online and they learn to change patients perception about them? I think engaging online will make doctors and physicians stronger.

Erick Kinuthia
Team MDwebpro

Chris April 12, 2012 at 4:25 am

Well exactly. They can’t just ban doctors from embracing the internet.

Perhaps even some base concepts, such as those of confidentiality, of privacy may change – for people who uncaringly choose to share everything on facebook, on twitter – why should medical records be something that remains a secret forever more?

Jonathan Govette April 12, 2012 at 5:08 pm

From a standpoint of security, online is the way to go because of the inherent risks of losing paper documents, referrals, forms and physical drives, etc.

In the last few years there has been over 410 breaches and most were due to theft of paper or laptops. If doctors were to go online application to manage their practice, the risk drops dramatically.

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