There’s a term in the social media realm that we’ve all seen before. Chances are you’ve applied it to one (or several) people you’re connected with. The term? Oversharing. You know the type – that person who spills every little personal detail/thought/complaint/desire/etc. for the entire world to see. “Bless their heart,” you think to yourself as you nod your head in disbelief at his or her complete openness and transparency.
The funny thing is, the exact opposite is happening in doctor’s offices. Patients are actually undersharing their symptoms and concerns when sitting face-to-face with doctors. We see it all the time in research and studies. Migraine sufferers focus strictly on their headaches but don’t bring up nausea, even though the symptoms are just as crippling. HIV patients on antiretroviral therapies don’t convey how their meds are causing the worst diarrhea imaginable, completely handcuffing their daily lives. The list goes on. Whether it’s due to shame or oversight or clamming up when in the clinic, we find that patients have a hard time “starting the conversation” with doctors. And if doctors don’t know about it, then they’re unable to help.
Maybe that’s where technology can lend a hand.
You’ve undoubtedly seen the wave of telemedicine starting to roll in. Apps like Doctor on Demand and services like Google’s Helpouts are enabling people to skip in-person visits entirely and “see” doctors through video instead. Just last year, nearly one million U.S. families used video consultations.* And now many urgent care systems and primary care practices are integrating telehealth into their offerings.
When patients are able to consult with doctors from their own couch rather than a sterile exam room, perhaps they’ll be more transparent and willing to share. But we shouldn’t assume – we need to do whatever we can to help patients open up.
Finger taps and swipes are a lot quicker (and more fun) than filling out paperwork. Questions about pain levels or family history of disease can come with visuals. And when the exam is complete, follow-up surveys can give patients a quick and easy way to communicate things they may have forgotten or been unwilling to share.
I’m sure there are dozens upon dozens of other ways technology can improve doctor-patient communication. Let’s do whatever we can to create a society full of healthy and happy oversharers.