Why Patients Will Know More Than Doctors About Their Health

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Despite Vinod Khosla’s prediction that machines will replace doctors, we’re still going to need doctors for the foreseeable future. What is true is that machines will be informing doctors and patients. While we naturally think about this happening for doctors, many in healthcare forget that machines will be informing patients even more often than doctors.

When you consider the health information and health sensors that are available today, patients are already becoming much more informed healthcare consumers. Dr. Google is literally a voice request away from us on our smart phones. The health sensor explosion has only just begun, but soon enough patients will have 100 times more information about their health than their doctors. Plus, the algorithms to evaluate, understand, and interpret that health data for the patient will follow.

These trends mean that patients will soon know more about their health than their doctors.

Don’t think this is possible? It’s already happening today with many chronic patients. Many chronic patients have dug so deeply into their personal health data and all the research on their specific disease that they literally know more about their disease than their doctor. That is not a knock on doctors, but the reality of chronic diseases. A chronic patient has time to obsess over their disease and specific health data while a doctor has to worry about thousands of diseases and patients.

Just to be clear, I’m not saying patients will know more about medicine than doctors. Have you seen the amount of information a medical student must learn? I am saying that patients will know more about their own individual health state than doctors know. Plus, some patients will know more about a specific disease than doctors. This should not be a surprise since doctors only spend less than 1 percent of their time with patients while patients are learning about (or at least living) their health 100 percent of the time. Not to mention new health apps are putting patients health front and center (or at least as a must see notification on their smartphone or wrist) in their life.

Yes, doctors will still have a much broader understanding of medicine. Doctors will be able to look at your health from a much wider perspective and understanding of the inter-related systems that make up the human body that influence your health. I can’t imagine patients choosing to do their own surgeries. Patients and their machines won’t be prescribing medication. At least for the immediate future, patients won’t even be self diagnosing. Doctors will still be extremely important in the diagnosis process. In fact, doctors will be extremely important to medicine, but how they work will change.

I know this line of thinking is scary and upsetting for many doctors. They feel that views like this denigrate the years they spent getting their medical degree. While there will be edge cases where patients will try to act like doctors, the majority of patients will just be active patients that are interested in their health and well being. We can’t let these edge cases burn the medical establishment from collaborating with patients.

The future of medicine is in the partnership between patient and doctor. As a partnership, each party brings their unique talents, resources and insights and together the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. In this new world, patients will bring incredible knowledge about their health which doctors should welcome with open arms.  Doctors will bring their wealth of knowledge and experience which patients should welcome with open arms. Neither patient nor doctor should let ego get in the way of a collaboration which will provide them the best health care possible.

About the Author


John Lynn is the founder of HealthcareScene.com and a HIMSS Ambassador.