2020 and beyond: Meet the doctor of the future.

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In healthcare, the forces of change are continually at work reshaping what we know as normal, and making the delivery of care faster, easier and more patient-centric.

It wasn’t long ago that: a manual exam was the only means of assessing the cause of abdominal pain, cataract surgery was followed by a week of recovery instead of a day, and an asthma attack required hospitalization.

Today, physicians can more accurately detect health problems, and perform precise, less invasive surgery – sometimes right in their office. Similarly, patients with chronic illnesses, such as asthma and diabetes have better tools to manage their own care.

This is now. What will tomorrow bring?

Three Canadian physicians share their hopes for the future of healthcare, and their opinions on what the new frontier might look like.

Streamlined care with fewer patient visits

Clinique Médicale Saint-Louis (CMSL) is the biggest clinic in eastern Quebec serving 46,000 patients. With a steady stream of patients in the office every day, Dr. Hugo Morin envisions a future with more hours in a day. “There are always more patients to see, more work to be done – but never more time,” he says. “We need to do better, especially with patient communication and follow-ups.”

For Dr. Morin, the time deficit is the biggest barrier to innovation. “Our days are filled with administration and seeing patients. There is little time to consider how we can work smarter for better results. We need to have these discussions.”

One step in the right direction is a PetalMD EMR add-on solution for the clinic that enables patients to book online appointments, and helps staff and physicians manage schedules and reduce wait times. Soon, the clinic plans to add a kiosk that enables patients to check themselves in on arrival.

Dr. Morin wants to see functions that free him to spend more time with his patients. “Half of my time is spent taking notes. When I work in the emergency department, I write on paper that goes in a folder in an archive room.”

Fast forward ten years, and Dr. Morin sees a streamlined care continuum. “The stethoscope will become obsolete – replaced with sophisticated tools that allow doctors to diagnose patients in one visit, instead of multiple trips to different locations. Physicians are already learning to do their own ultrasounds. Patients will receive appropriate and effective treatment faster. In the end, it’s about providing the best care – for the best health outcomes.”

Giving patients more control over their care

A pioneer in healthcare advancements, Dr. Michel Hébert is a medical director at TELUS Health, the founder of Kinlogix EMR and co-owner/operator of La Cité Medicale. One of the first clinics in Quebec to become fully digital, La Cité Medicale is an EMR test environment for technological innovations such as the TELUS EMR Mobile app, and government programs like eReferral and the vaccine registry. The clinic consults with 120 healthcare providers, implementing and testing their specialized EMR needs.

Dr. Hébert believes that healthcare innovation is driven by the need to empower and engage the patient. “Patients need more accurate diagnoses, to spend less time in treatment, to have access to their files and to be a participant in their own care. Physicians want to make the best decisions, but we need the patient at the table as part of the process,” he says.

New technologies are working to create what Dr. Hébert calls “the perfect storm” to redefine a healthcare system that is more patient-centric. “EMR solutions structure information so it can be easily accessed and used by a patient’s entire care team. Wearables and other connected devices allow patients to track their own vitals in real-time. There is more data available to us than we ever imagined.” Meanwhile, advances in genetics and pharmacogenomics are opening an exciting new chapter in precision medicine. “These are important breakthroughs for the clinic of the future,” he says.

Looking forward, Dr. Hébert sees a very different kind of patient encounter. “The physical exam will become less common. When I started my practice, we had to rely on manual examination. Now with investigative tools, we can reach a diagnosis differently. And with virtual care, patients won’t need to be in the doctor’s office at all.”

He also predicts the end of siloed practices. “There will be healthcare centres providing integrative care in one place. We can’t continue asking the patient to travel to different locations for treatment. Ultimately, the patient will be the driving force in his or her own care,” he says.

Preventing disease means a healthier future

When asked about innovation in healthcare, Dr. Brendan Byrne, consultant for TELUS Health, creator of Wolf EMR and co-founder of Wellness Garage – a unique medical lifestyle clinic, says “it’s costly and time-consuming to prove that what we’ve done is better. It takes 14 years from creating something new to it being widely adopted. Meanwhile, chronic disease will continue to rise.”

“We should experiment with smaller organizations that can innovate and demonstrate results faster,” says Dr. Byrne. He feels that healthcare would benefit from being organized around patient populations rather than institutions. “We already know that Type 2 diabetes patients are at-risk for heart disease. Why send the patient to five different doctors?”

Dr. Byrne believes that fundamentally, healthcare providers need to do what they can to prevent disease. “Never before has it been more possible to eat well and take care of ourselves, yet people are increasingly sedentary, stressed, engaged in digitized relationships, and eating processed foods.” Such lifestyle behaviours are major drivers to chronic disease, which Dr. Byrne estimates accounts for 80% of healthcare spending.

Despite the ever-increasing use of technology in healthcare – critical thinking will always remain important. Technology will be there to help physicians understand scenarios and probabilities of disease. But decisions regarding patient care will always be based on a combination of experience, insights and empathy. “We are a long way from machine learning being able to make healthcare decisions.”

These are transformational times for Canadian healthcare – and for patients. As new technologies and innovations enter the sphere, those on the frontlines hope for a future that makes the patient a partner in care, and tools to enable faster diagnoses, more efficient care and better outcomes.

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