How digital is reshaping your doctor’s world

The role of a doctor is ever changing. For centuries, they have sought to continually expand their understanding of the traumas and diseases that affect the human condition, so they can respond effectively and think more critically to deliver the best patient outcomes. The methods they use to do this are also evolving, a fact that has been brought sharply into focus by the coronavirus pandemic.

Like patients, doctors had begun to embrace the advantages and convenience of digital and online platforms to access the latest medical updates and advances in both general health and their own specialties. Also crowdsourcing information from colleagues in the medical community, both nationally and globally, to advance their own knowledge and using telemedicine to provide patients with the opportunity for virtual surgery visits.

Then, in March, as the world retreated behind a collective closed door as the pandemic spread, doctors began to increasingly rely on these digital tools to engage with the medical community and communicate with their patients.

As COVID-19’s grip tightened, specialists and GPs lost their primary channels for information, as medical congresses, regional symposia and even visits from pharmaceutical representatives with information about new treatments were no longer viable. Surgeries throughout the UK shuttered, with care being shifted to virtual platforms and online doctor consultation services and all but emergency care sidelined.

As the leading platform in Europe for clinical news, health information and point-of-care tools for doctors, Medscape saw the momentum for digital transformation increase during the outbreak. Specialists and GPs moved quickly to respond, ensuring patients could continue to receive necessary care while, importantly, offering reassurance they were available virtually; all while confronting a novel disease that was highly transmissible and lethal.

According to research from Medscape, 62 per cent of UK doctors treated patients with COVID-19 and 34 per cent knew of colleagues who contracted COVID-19 while working. Medscape heard from these doctors and responded with news about shortages of personal protective equipment and calls for more testing for healthcare workers, while giving them tools to connect with colleagues around the world, who were facing similar risks, challenges and fears.

Pre-pandemic, medical conferences and large congresses were crucial in the dissemination of knowledge throughout the medical community and one of the key ways doctors stayed up to date with new clinical data, which could enhance their practice and help improve patient care.

Research has revealed that three quarters of doctors believe real-time information from conferences, whether COVID-related or otherwise, is extremely important, particularly considering the rapidly evolving medical landscape in 2020.

Doctors shift to digital

Just as digital platforms enabled the public to stay connected with family, friends and work colleagues, so they also allowed doctors to continue to practice at a time when COVID-19 was emerging as a global threat, with broad implications for patient care.

Medscape medical news, reports and features kept doctors updated on breaking medical news, while patient simulation and continuing medical education provided e-learning for new clinical and treatment information, not only on COVID-19 but also on cancer, heart disease, diabetes and other clinical issues that were not disappearing.

Medscape infographic

And at a time when in-person conferences weren’t possible, Medscape Consult, a crowdsourcing platform, gave doctors a lifeline, enabling them to access hundreds of insights and answers from colleagues around the globe.  As the pandemic has continued, Medscape Consult has established a crucial channel of communication for doctors, who need community and connection more than ever, and will continue to when the pandemic has passed.

Doctors and patients post-pandemic

According to research by Medscape, almost one third of patients have used telemedicine since the start of the pandemic and more than half say they plan to continue doing so as society adjusts to living with the disease. This means that on the other end of the line there needs to be doctors who are willing to connect and change the way they work to embrace a spectrum of digital channels. Doctors also anticipate they will adjust how they gain information.

Practices up and down the country are taking great care to help patients feel safe to come back and see their GP, while at the same time continuing to offer telemedicine. But underpinning both settings is the need for learning and the latest information and research. However, COVID-19 has cut doctors off from some of the more traditional ways they receive this knowledge.

“Medscape is continuing to cover all the major congresses, which are now releasing data virtually. Physicians are still coming to us to learn about the latest data in their particular specialty areas,” says Jeremy Schneider, group general manager of WebMD and Medscape Global.

“It’s pretty powerful for a physician in London to be able to look at a video from a physician who dealt with the exact same thing in China months earlier. This is not something that would have happened before sites like Medscape.”

It’s pretty powerful for a physician in London to be able to look at a video from a physician who dealt with the exact same thing in China months earlier

Such innovation continues as we emerge from global lockdown and Medscape works with the top infectious disease doctors who are writing articles and blogging on the Medscape platform to give a real-time overview of their local situation, so other specialists around the world can learn from their experiences.

All these digital resources combine to deliver something that traditionally has been in short supply for GPs and hospital doctors: time. By relying more on online resources, healthcare professionals can structure their day more efficiently and make the most of their working hours. In this way, Medscape is providing a more efficient way to get the right information to the right people, so doctors gain knowledge and insight quicker and patients obtain the healthcare that they need.

The question that remains is if it’s also possible for doctors to gain access to the knowledge they so badly need, how will they seek to relay it to patients as 2020 unfolds? Interestingly, it looks like this will come from a mixture of both telemedicine and the more traditional settings patients and doctors are used to.

What hasn’t changed throughout all this are those same doctors’ needs for an up-to-date and trustworthy information source, which they can rely upon to put them in the best possible position to offer advice and treatment, whether digitally on a Zoom call or mask-to-mask in the surgery.

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