Communication Currents

Doctor-Patient Telecommunication

August 1, 2010
Health Communication

We live in a world where technology is constantly changing. We are bombarded by the Internet and mobile technologies-including when we visit our doctors. As we use technology more and more to communicate, it is no surprise it would extend into the medical world and influence the way doctors and patients communicate. As a result, it becomes increasingly important to understand what makes the use of technology successful during medical interactions. Very generally, telemedicine is the exchange of medical information using technology. Storing medical records on a computer, e-mailing a doctor, and even video conferencing with a health care practitioner are all examples of telemedicine.

Our study focused on the importance of targeting communication training to develop health care provider competence using telemedicine. We also examined provider resistance to using telemedicine. A lack of focus on these areas leads to a breakdown in adopting telemedicine as physicians may perceive they are not competent enough to use the technology. The following sections examine the barriers doctors and patients face using technology, specifically telemedicine. We then present solutions on how to improve telemedicine training.

There are barriers to physicians adopting telemedicine, including the cost of equipment and the cost of training, as well as hesitancy on the part of the patient and physician toward using technology. These are problematic because if the costs of new technologies are too high, then health care facilities will not be able to afford them. Additionally, if people are hesitant to use them, then the new technologies will not be successfully adopted into health care interactions.

A lack of time, finances, as well as proper training about the use of telemedicine may be of consequence to providers. Obtaining knowledge helps the provider understand how the technology works, reducing their uncertainty about its use. Alternately, a lack of information may cause physicians to either form a negative impression of telemedicine or reinforce existing negative impressions. These problems not only exist for the doctor's side of communication, but the patient's side as well.

Some studies suggest patients are reluctant to use telemedicine, decreasing the opportunity for providers to use the technology. Patients may also feel uncertain about using technology and may express resistance to using it. This resistance may stem from a fear of technology or from how staff members discuss telemedicine encounters with them. In order for patients to feel comfortable communicating using the technology, health care practitioners must first learn how to communicate effectively using the technology. Trust between doctor and patient is challenged with the addition of telemedicine. Therefore, it is essential both doctors and patients not only understand and know how to use, but also trust the technologies they are using in order to create not only positive, but successful medical interactions. If staff members and physicians make effective use of the technology, the resulting enhanced communication may encourage patients to adopt the technology as well.

In order to address uncertainty and build confidence in using new technology, it's critical that both doctors and patients have access to quality training in how to use technologies involved in telemedicine. If there is a new technology, it is important for proper information to be communicated about the product. If doctors and patients are aware of what telemedicine is and how it is used in medical interaction, this will reduce uncertainty in many ways. For example if a patient has a question about technology, the doctor should have the proper knowledge to adequately answer the patient. Not only knowing what the technology is, but how it is used is also important for the successful adoption of technology into the medical world. As the old cliché goes, “knowing is only half the battle.” Doctors and patients must also be competent with the use of technology. This leads to proper use of telemedicine to facilitate communication between doctors and patients.

Therefore, targeted communication interventions for medical professionals and by extension their patients must become a part of health care culture. Everyone is affected by the use of technology in the medical field, especially as it impacts doctor-patient communication. It is important to not only know what these technologies are and how they are used, but also to understand how the use of technology, or telemedicine impacts relationships with doctors, which in turn, can influence a patient's personal health. Because medical education and training have always been important in health care, this notion is ever more important as technologies continue to change and impact our everyday lives which in turn propels society forward.

About the author (s)

Ali Gattoni

University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Doctoral Candidate

Kelly E. Tenzek

University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Doctoral Candidate