The recurring complaint is that data – from its cumbersome entry and formulaic workflows, to its sheer disorganized scale – is sucking the humanity out of healthcare, and especially from doctor-patient interactions. Is there a way to make it the foundation of positive, patient-centered interactions, increased engagement, and improved outcomes?
Population health meets patient health when it becomes a matter not just of big numbers, but personal details.
People are just people
Long before the dissolution of Brangelina’s marriage held tabloids hostage, Angelina Jolie’s very public decision to undergo a preventative double mastectomy sparked conversations not just about her courage, but about relative risk, genetic testing, preventative care, and the identity issues that intersect with and often complicate care decisions and the nature of disease.
More recently, Ben Stiller’s experiences with prostate cancer made similar waves. His story highlights how a doctor-patient relationship led him away from conventional advice and yielded life-saving results. He, like Angelina, blurred the lines between a personal anecdote and a population health conversation that more people need to have.
Gender is a subject that seldom fails to get people to sit up and pay attention. Gender is at once universal and deeply personal. Gender issues have been a recurring theme throughout the seemingly endless 2016 presidential race, the genesis of inspiration as well as irritation. It would also seem, judging from the impact of Ben and Angelina’s essays, that gender is a springboard to conversation at the intersection of population with personal health, of doctor-patient relationships with technology, and of impersonal data with hyperpersonal medical considerations.
Through gender we can call attention to the links between physical and behavioral health, from the disproportionate incidence of autism in males compared to females, to the diversity of symptoms exhibited by boys and girls with ADHD, and even how pain is experienced differently, and the implications this may have for chronic pain management—and, by extension, curtailing the opioid epidemic. We can discuss the disparate approaches to screening, as well as the divergent survival rates for men and women for various cancers. We can examine how cultural norms impact care, how families can be proactive and communicative about end-of-life issues and hereditary conditions.
On the clinical side, the lens of gender puts provider shortages into sharper focus: the importance of women’s health specialists in the next-gen health model (with value-based payments and quality metrics, patient-centered care at the forefront), the way that burnout presents in male versus female physicians, and what this all can teach us about how we recruit, prepare, and retain medical professionals going forward.
It has to start somewhere
Healthcare is a dense, intricate web of topics, issues, stakeholders, and challenges. Talking about gender doesn’t cut through the Gordian knot, but it does provide a starting point that, with amazing simplicity, helps reveal to us how everything really is connected.
Even more reassuring is the way it puts the doctor-patient relationship front and center again, but bolstered by the kind of data that is supposed to drive care in the digital age. Outcomes, risks, options, populations, identities—making sense of it all requires a lens with a sharp focus. The transformations we need going forward start with more – and better – communication, not more administration and certainly not additional layers of technological obfuscation.
These kinds of conversations help us make healthcare contexts universal and personal all at once. The more we have such conversations, the more ways we will find to reconnect our systems with our humanity.
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