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Who owns the patient?

Updated: Apr 11, 2022

Some of you may already know that, over these past six months, I have been taking calls from anybody who wants to talk about Healthusiasm. I found these chats to be incredibly interesting. In the weeks gone by, I got to exchange ideas with yoga teachers from the south of Italy, dentists from Germany, personal trainers from California, marketeers from coffee or luxury brands and even people from the Swiss pharmaceutical industry called in!

Two weeks ago, I received this call from a firstline physician, who was struggling with just one profound question. That question was, “Who owns the patient?”

The doctor was open to innovation, forward-thinking, and tech-savvy. He enjoys exploring which new tools and solutions are out there. However, with all these initiatives taken by start-ups and companies who want to offer the patient tools providing information, reminders and recommendations, based on increasingly high-performing artificial intelligence (AI)… who will actually own the patient?

Now, I am not quite sure how you feel about this question. In fact, it might even depend on situations you have found yourself in as a patient. Nevertheless, something feels very wrong about that question, doesn’t it? Because nobody owns the patient. Or, at least, no one should.

I do, of course, understand where this question is coming from. Even though we all agree that patients are more empowered than ever, healthcare providers still largely function in a paternalistic way. And, true, they have an enormous amount of responsibility when it comes to taking life or death decisions. That’s not even mentioning the fact that a doctor is generally liable for any negligence or misdiagnosis. Therefore, yes, I do get that question somehow.

However, to me it’s clear that no one should own the patient. Because if, at some point, all these diagnosis and disease management tools will gain real popularity - and this will certainly be the case -, it will be because patients want to own their own health. They will want to know more about it and will likely rely on AI as much as on the opinion of any number of doctors. They will want to be involved in every step of the decision-making process. They will want to have an impact. They will want to be the keepers of their own health.

I know what you are thinking: not everybody will go to those lengths. And you’re right. Maybe they won’t, not at first. It could take some time. But the challenges firstline physicians are facing today, will only become bigger.

Think about it: nowadays, some patients hardly ask any questions and simply want a clear-cut medical solution. Those patients can be sent home within a couple of minutes after meeting them.

Other patients will have a ton of questions, would rather wait before getting medical treatment and will ask about the health impact of food, exercise, sleep or maybe even alternative medicine. They will try to truly understand what their condition and possible treatment is about and will certainly look up loads of information. Those patients want to have a long, in-depth conversation with their doctor. They want to be advised or guided. They want to understand what’s going on and be part of the decision-making. But they certainly do not want to be owned.

So, let’s stop thinking in terms of “who owns the patient”, in any kind of health-related discussion! Because inherently... this way of thinking is not future-proof. And it certainly is not what your patient wants – or needs – to hear.



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