Monday, July 16, 2012

Social: saving lives by building a better GP

And how far behind is financial services?

If anyone you know is still wondering about whether social media has commercial worth, here's one to shout from the rooftops. 

News from a medical study today is a huge signal to the medical establishment about social tools for Australian doctors and patients. And a harbinger of what's to come for our banks, insurers, wealth advisers, financial planners, credit card companies and financial services providers as they serve us on our own personal journeys towards better financial futures.

Listening to ABC Radio 702's breakfast show this morning I heard something everyone should know. 

The Medical Journal of Australia is going to develop a collaborative social tool (a wiki) to help General Practitioners (GPs) deliver the best possible care to patients. At least that's the summary version I've gleaned from news media and the MJA website


Almost half of Australian patients don't get "recommended care"

Because a recent study suggests adult Australians are receiving "appropriate" (read 'good enough') GP care at 57%. That leaves a whopping 43% of GP care in the sample group of more than 1,000 who did not receive "appropriate care".

The potential extrapolation to the Australian population (think in particular regional or social-economically under-served communities) is frightening.

Now while there will be headlines in those stats, here are some realities:
- GPs are among some of the most overburdened in our health care system
- They have limited time and resources to diagnose (and often treat) thousands of diverse conditions
- No medical  professional is omnipotent...and we're unreasonable if we expect them to be...which we often do!

So how does a busy GP ensure (ie be certain or near enough) they're doing better than getting it right half  the time? Use a wiki that, overseen by experts, provides a "dynamic, centralised and inclusive platform — openly available to all to contribute to and use — that will help empower clinicians to deliver the best care."

It's a huge leap for practitioners, who for sometime have been complaining about "Google Doctor", but have, on occasion, been well behind the eight ball when faced with an intelligent, curious and well researched patient.

Personally I use healthy caution when it comes to Google Doctor. I have the words of my late grandfather, a specialist and pioneer in his field, that a little bit of knowledge is indeed a very dangerous thing. 

Personally? Google+ motivated parent > GP

But, and it's a huge but, I have used Google twice to identify and correctly diagnose rare conditions affecting my children.

After failing to arrive at answers to serious questions in several consults, I was forced to look for answers myself in the only medical database I have access to (imperfect as it is) - Google. 

After that, and with the germ of an idea I went to yet more doctors to be told (on occasion) I was wrong. And then, upon persisting, finding advice from more specialised doctors in particular fields, that I was right.

OK so that's probably an unusual example. Still, it suggests a worried parent with Google, some basic biological knowledge and the ability to use Boolean search terms beats 15-30 minutes with a busy GP or paediatrician any day. 

And that's just wrong. 

Simple access to information is putting medical professionals, and their patients (most of us!) at a huge disadvantage.

Why? Because many doctors, while great professionals with specialist diagnostician skills, don't have the time or tools (here's where the wiki comes in) to get the right answer. In some cases, they may also lack the humility or intellectual curiosity to get the right answer, but that's another, and thankfully, less common, story.

The God-complex revived: in a wiki

This signals a very real application of social tools to one of the most important ares of our lives - our health.

Here are a few key lines from the excerpt in today's MJA abstract covering the study, which was designed to measure how well we deliver “appropriate care” to patients in Australia (doi: 10.5694/mja12.10510). 

"The researchers were aiming to reproduce a landmark 2003 study that found that only 55% of patients in the United States received “recommended care”...findings are essentially the same — that almost half of patients are not receiving appropriate care....

"...challenge that practitioners regularly face — how to access reliable, updated and credible information about appropriate care, and how to make clinical decisions in the absence of this information.

"...Runciman et al suggest a way to achieve national agreement on clinical standards...we (the MJA) are already working with the Cancer Council Australia to deliver a “wiki” guideline tool on our website...a dynamic, centralised and inclusive platform — openly available to all to contribute to and use — that will help empower clinicians to deliver the best care."

We can't reasonably expect our GPs to be God, or even close to omnipotent, but we can expect that when such a tool exists, they can use it to improve their diagnoses.

Still wondering about social media in financial services?

Here we have a wiki - a social, collaborative tool - that may well lift the standard of GP care in Australia. Well used, that means savings lives, improving quality of life and lower health care costs as we improve prevention and treatment. 

How long before such a wiki helps financial planners, and their clients, arrive at better decision about long term financial planning? Or helps you make better decisions about the cheapest and best credit card? Or when to flick the mortgage provider and change banks? Choose a super fund? Or how to really cost the services the bank provides? 

Sooner than we think.

Hopefully such solutions will be made possible by joint industry efforts, collaborating with consumers, to develop social tools that give us all access to better financial decisions.

It would seem that whether we seek to be healthier, wealthier or wiser, the democratisation of information long predicted through social is reality. 

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