By Larry Chu, MD
Associate Professor of Anesthesiology, Perioperative and Pain Medicine
Executive Director of Stanford Medicine X
Patients are the most underutilized resource, and they have the most at stake. They want to be involved and they can be involved. Their participation will lead to better medical outcomes at lower costs with dramatically higher patient/customer satisfaction."
Charles Safran, MD, spoke these words in 2004, as president of the American Medical Informatics Association during his testimony before Congress. Ten years later, there remains an urgent need for patients to play an active role in the health care system.
I founded the Stanford Medicine X conference three years ago with the hope of fostering connections and conversations between patients, health care professionals, researchers and technologists. Medicine X is Stanford's premiere conference on emerging technologies at the intersection of health care and medicine. In early September, I had the privilege of once again presiding over the conference as executive director. Throughout four days of presentations, workshops, master classes and hands-on exhibits, our delegates explored the ways in which emerging technologies can enhance the practice of medicine, improve health, and empower patients to participate in their own care. Here are a few key takeaways from this year's conference.
Patient communities are vital collaborators for medical professionals. One of the big-picture ideas that pervaded almost every aspect of the conference was the importance of patient communities. While these communities have long been important sources of support and information for patients, there is now a growing understanding that patient networks also have valuable insights to share with physicians and other health care providers. A recurring thread through many of our speaker presentations was the increasing prevalence and power of online patient communities and peer-to-peer health care. Through Twitter, Facebook and online patient communities, our patients are connecting with others who share their conditions. Today's health care professionals should be aware that patients are turning to these communities for information. We should consider how we might contribute to, interact with and learn from these important online resources.
The medical team of the future is inclusive. Our plenary session on "The New Team" explored the question, "What might the medical team of the future look like?" As patients become more engaged, they are actively shaping their health care experience. Our main stage panelists discussed the ways in which patients can partner with health care providers, hospitals, pharmacists and all stakeholders as valued members of the health care team.
Ensuing discussions both reflected and expanded upon this "New Team" model of participatory medicine. In "The New Pharma," we heard from both patients and pharmaceutical industry leaders about the surprising new opportunities for collaboration between patients and the pharmaceutical industry. Patients are providing input to researchers early and often in the drug development process, paving the way for more effective treatments that are designed with the user in mind.
Our panel on "The New Self-Tracker" looked at how patients with chronic illness are using self-tracking technology to empower themselves with personal health data. We learned that while data might provide insights on trends and triggers for patients with diabetes, those with other conditions might not benefit and may even be harmed by self-tracking health data. We also discussed the needs of a patient population on the other end of the technology spectrum: "The No-Smartphone Patient." What are the cultural, social and economic barriers that prevent people from fully embracing health-enhancing technologies? Our panelists shared their experiences engaging with low-tech patient populations, and identified avenues for innovation that don't assume or rely on smartphone ownership.
Access to health data empowers patients. Multiple presentations throughout Medicine X addressed the importance of accessible health data, for individual patients and for the patient community in aggregate. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Charles Ornstein delivered our Saturday keynote on harnessing data for patient empowerment. His talk called for physician transparency about payments received from pharmaceutical companies in exchange for promotional talks, research and consulting. He highlighted several online tools that track physician data for public use, including Dollars for Docs, Treatment Tracker and The Prescribers from ProPublica. After his presentation, a panel discussion explored multiple aspects of the relationship between patients and data, including the need for patients to access personal health data to enable them to better manage their own conditions.
These talks were just the beginning of a full program that included presentations on mental health as an integral component of physical health, discussions on how to better meet the health needs of underserved populations and demonstrations of exciting medical applications of technology, including 3D-printed prosthetics for children.
As I look toward the future, I am encouraged by the medical profession's steady progress toward including the patient voice in health care conversations. The Medicine X community is proud to be a driving force in the patient inclusion movement, and we look forward to sharing—and shaping—this story at Stanford for many years to come. As Bryan Vartabedian, MD, a Baylor College of Medicine physician and a longtime speaker at our event said this year, Medicine X has evolved "from an annual meeting into a global movement."
We invite you to join us and become part of the conversation about the future of health care next year, September 25-27, 2015. For more information and videos of many talks, please visit: medicinex.stanford.edu.