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Patients may be waiting longer than ever but at least they are empowered

Hi technology!

Isn’t it funny how, back in the day, we used quaint old methods like facts, knowledge and experience to manage our patients? But, thanks to that digital revolution they have these days, we no longer need to bother with things like thinking.

And the flipside of giving our brains a rest is that patients feel empowered. That’s what digital gurus say, though not while looking you in the eye, because they’re too busy aggressively punching keyboards and apps on their smartphones.

Patients seem to believe it, too. All those flashing bells and whistles churning out physiological data: that’s empowerment, isn’t it, because everyone says it is.

Which is why, when I ask my patients nowadays, how they’re feeling, they reply: ‘I’m feeling empowered, doctor.’ 

And that’s obviously a good thing, as the following examples illustrate.

The patient can now decide what to do about all that angst 

The first empowered patient I see today has noticed that, when he exercises, his fitness tracker-measured pulse rate sometimes exceeds the ‘recommended maximum’, as calculated according to age, sex, inside leg measurement and taking away the number you first thought of, etc.

Neither he nor I have any clue about what the potential implications of this are, and therefore what action we should take, but that doesn’t stop us having a fascinating 20-minute conversation about it.

The second patient has been on antihypertensives for some years, but more recently only collecting her prescription sporadically.

It turns out that she received a home BP monitor for Christmas and, on days when her BP is ‘normal’, with impeccable logic, she skips her treatment. So that’s not only empowering – it also saves on prescribing costs.

And the third patient has been suffering with diarrhoea for a week and wants an urgent referral for a colonoscopy – because Dr Google has said, correctly, that the symptom could be a sign of colon cancer. Which is excellent.

In the past, I’ve always carried the burden of uncertainty on behalf of the punters, balancing the need to act promptly while not over-investigating or unnecessarily worrying the patient. Not any more.

Digital empowerment means that the patient can take on all that angst themselves and decide what to do about it, even if that involves prolonging waiting times to the point that they create their own obstacles to what they were seeking in the first place.

So why, then, does all this self-evidently positive digital health progress make me want to stomp apps, smartphones and every other electro-health gizmo into a pulp of bytes, liquid crystal and lithium?

Probably because I’m a dinosaur, and that’s what lumbering, grumpy, stompy dinosaurs do. And yes, I have a tiny brontosaurus brain, but my memory is intact, and I remember when things were better.

Bye technology!

Dr Tony Copperfield is a GP in Essex. Read more of Copperfield’s blogs at or follow him on Twitter @doccopperfield