Relationships are an important, and often under-appreciated, part of the health care industry. Patients and their doctors and nurses often develop a relationship over time. The longer that a patient sees a doctor, the more they communicate and the more comfortable they become.

Increased communication leads to better health results, as frequent correspondence affects the downstream need for care. Medical professionals can only diagnose so much – they need an honest and open dialogue from patients about their bodies to effectively identify and track certain illnesses. But, it’s often tough to build a relationship when the patient only comes into the office once or twice a year. This is where modern technology can help to bridge a previously existing gap: patients can now interact with doctors and nurses remotely.

Back and Forth

The idea of increased communication in the health care industry dates back to the early days of the internet. The National Institutes of Health and the National Center for Biotechnology Information studied how better communication systems in health care could lead to better results. A research paper found that a significant percentage of clinician time in clinics is devoted to talking, and technology is only making this percentage increase, albeit not via face-to-face interaction.

The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion sees health communication and health information technology as one of the ways to transform health care and bridge the gap between doctors and patients. The agency noted that effective use of communication tools and technology will:

  • Improve health care quality and safety.
  • Increase the efficiency of health care and public health service delivery.
  • Improve the public health information infrastructure.
  • Support care in the community and at home.
  • Facilitate clinical and consumer decision-making.
  • Build health skills and knowledge.

Patient reporting is the foundation of this new type of approach. A more constant communication between patients and doctors will help track the progression of symptoms, potentially leading to an early diagnosis of disease.

Studying Increased Communication
A study in the Journal of Clinical Oncology seems to affirm this notion, as it found that clinical benefits were associated with patients who self-reported symptoms during their cancer treatment programs. The study was done at Memorial Sloan Kettering, with 539 cancer patients – these patients reported their symptoms and if their symptoms worsened, a nurse would call and make adjustments.

The study compared the patients with a group of 227 similar patients who received the traditional care, which included normal symptom monitoring by their doctors. Seventy-five percent of members the intervention group were alive after one year, compared with 69 percent of the usual care group.

The Cancer Treatment Centers of America found a similar result when studying self-reporting outcomes. Their study also found that the back and forth helped to narrow the conversation when specialists were needed. Nurses and doctors reported that a more targeted, pointed conversations occurred thanks to prior talks and assessments. The CTCA concluded that clinicians and physicians were better able to manage symptom burdens thanks to a revamped and more frequent contact system.

This approach isn’t limited to cancer patients, however. Patient self-reporting is transforming health care in a more general sense. The earlier that symptoms are reported, the earlier doctors can act and begin treatment. This could help to limit health care costs across the board, as well as trips to the emergency room, admissions, and readmissions.