The healthcare industry is undergoing a massive shift. As a wave of baby boomer physicians retire and exit their family practices, newly trained millennials are beginning their careers in medicine and setting up their clinic practice. Not to mention, in the midst of these generational changes, healthcare providers are adopting new technologies — from electronic medical records and patient portals to AI solutions.
While younger physicians are inherently comfortable using technology, they still aren’t taking full advantage of the tools available to them to make diagnoses, manage chronic diseases, and educate patients; even among this new generation of primary care physicians, there is a considerable knowledge gap when it comes to leveraging technological capabilities to enhance care.
One way to help new graduates and physicians gain deeper knowledge in this area is to incorporate emerging health technologies into the learning curriculum at medical schools and increase hands-on training. Here are a few of the areas that can help to adequately prepare students for the demands of running a 21st-century family practice.
Enhancing communication with patients.
As new technologies continue to empower individuals to be more proactive in managing their own health, physician-patient relationships are evolving into true partnerships — and today’s medical students can benefit from learning about the skills and tools that could help them share and relay information more effectively.
This is something Dr. Daniel Pepe, a family physician at London Lambeth Medical Clinic, has experienced firsthand. “There’s more focus on how we actually explain results to patients,” he says about the recent shifts in healthcare. “Prior to technology coming in, a lot of people communicated physician-to-physician or physician-to-other-healthcare-provider. Now that people have frequent visibility of their records, I think it does change how we need to communicate with each other.”
Transitioning towards competency-based medical education (CBME) is one possible solution being proposed by The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons. Following this approach, communication skills and other competencies required of physicians would be taught and evaluated through direct observations during real clinical situations (rather than final exams and tests). Shifting away from time-based education models — where number of years in school equate to competency — can help ensure students are proficient in both digital and face-to-face communications, therefore preparing physicians to better meet the needs of today’s patients.
Understanding what myriad digital tools offer.
A wealth of technological solutions are reshaping medicine, but the full potential of these tools hasn’t yet been realized. Take electronic medical records, for example: while many physicians champion EMR usage in their clinics, several are still unaware of the full range of capabilities this technology offers. Aside from storing patient records and data, EMRs can be used to schedule appointments, manage chronic diseases, visualize patient data, provide virtual care, and transmit referrals, among other daily tasks.
Skende Huskic, a physician’s assistant and clinic manager at Whitewater Medical, believes that today’s students could benefit from additional training on EMR features and functionality from educators and providers alike. “EMRs aren’t just for storing patient information,” she says. “Medical students need to be taught that it’s actually the main component of their practice. There are many ways to use EMRs to communicate with patients, pharmacies, and teams.”
Learning how to seamlessly integrate technologies.
For physicians to make the best use of EMRs and other tech tools, they need to be interoperable. “The main struggle that we have with technology is the fact that there are lots of different tools out there, but nothing is integrated,” says Dr. Pepe. “It’s hard to remember where to look for each tool, or where you can find each piece of information.”
In recent years, important steps have been taken to improve the flexibility and interoperability of modern health technologies, but today’s medical students aren’t being taught how to fully integrate all of the tools that are available to them. Some universities have already made strides to ensure students are learning about how digital tools and solutions can be used together for more comprehensive and efficient care — something that will need to continue evolving alongside doctors’ tech reliance.
Preparing the incoming generation.
As the healthcare industry continues to evolve, the next generation of physicians need — and want — to gain a deeper understanding of how technology can be embraced for more efficient practices. But it isn’t just healthcare experts who are anticipating greater integration of technology in clinics. Patients are also looking forward to more advanced, technology-based care. According to a CMA-commissioned survey that examined perceptions and acceptance of technology in healthcare, three out of four Canadians believe new technologies could solve existing issues in our healthcare system.
As healthcare continues to evolve, educators and EMR providers alike must adapt in order to equip students with the knowledge and ongoing support they need. Only then will new physicians be able to launch successful careers, embrace digital tools, and deliver care that will ultimately improve the lives of patients.