Will convenience kill the doctor-patient relationship?

While innovations in healthcare have made getting basic services almost as easy as using an ATM, these trends haven't necessarily been positive for the physician-patient relationship, according to an article from ABC News.

"I think the role of primary care has diminished ... and I don't see encouraging signs that it is having a renaissance," said Robert Berenson, M.D., a researcher at the nonpartisan Urban Institute. In place of the once-personal connections patients had with their doctors are retail clinics and smartphone apps that offer convenient access at prices comparable to copays.

Visits to retail clinics and urgent care centers currently make up 20 percent of primary care encounters, according to the article, with telemedicine consults beginning to encroach on doctors' patient base as well. Health insurers looking to save overall costs are helping to drive the telehealth movement, with large companies such as UnitedHealth Group Inc. and Anthem Blue Cross promoting and paying for virtual care.

The American College of Physicians (ACP), in its most recent paper, said it supports the expanded role of telemedicine as a way to increase access to care and reduce costs. However, it also calls upon physicians to use their judgment in determining when remote care is appropriate. To that end, it recommends that telemedicine be used when a patient and a physician have an established, ongoing relationship, and then "only as an intermittent alternative to a patient's primary care physician when necessary to meet the patient's immediate acute care needs."

Nonetheless, physicians looking to save or establish relationships with patients may need to evolve to accommodate the wants and needs of today's patients, in many cases by leveraging the benefits of team-based care. In some markets, however, it could mean offering concierge-level services to patients willing to pay extra for "old-fashioned" attention combined with technology-enabled access.

To learn more:
- read the article