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Vol 22, No. 09, September 2018   |   Issue PDF view/purchase
Millennial physicians: On the edge of a brave new world
Millennial physicians are bringing a fresh perspective to the doctor-patient relationship. Richard Saynor discusses what this means for patients and the healthcare system.

Millennials. We have read our fair share of articles branding this generation as “entitled”, “self-centred”, “lazy” and tech-obsessed.

In the healthcare space, where cohorts of millennial doctors are entering the workspace, much has also been said about their leadership styles, attitude towards technology and focus on work-life balance; all of which will undoubtedly have a noticeable impact on the physician-patient relationship.

But is this an over-generalisation of a generation and are we overlooking the social conditions that have shaped the values and perspectives of these younger doctors?

To understand this better, let’s take a step back and look at the changes in the healthcare industry as a whole. Today, we are at a tipping point, fuelled by years of disruption brought on by tech innovations and digitisation specifically aimed at health or healthcare systems. The new reality is a data-driven environment and virtualisation of care that has fundamentally changed the way healthcare providers work.

Instant access to information has empowered a new type of patient, one who asks more questions and takes greater ownership of their health information. The rise of self-care and diagnosis has been on the uptick in recent years. Now, more than ever, “Dr Google” plays a growing role in conversations between physicians and patients.

With rising patient expectations for information and a holistic experience, physicians are expected not only to provide (or reaffirm or even defend) a diagnosis, but to also educate and navigate patients through the vast quantity of search entries they will most likely have accessed prior to the consultation.

And they need to do this while seeing a greater volume of patients in a shorter period of time - doctors on average have two minutes per patient in India and China, and 48 seconds in Bangladesh. Adding to this is the need to contend with online reviews of their performance, stay abreast of the latest medical developments, while still maintaining a strong sense of empathy and care.

Against this backdrop, a millennial doctor’s innate relationship with technology, prowess for multi-tasking, and inclination for advocacy will give them an edge. Outside of limited consultation sessions, some physicians have taken to sharing healthcare advice on YouTube and Instagram. Others actively compare notes with their peers on physician-only social networks. As a generation that has grown up with blogs, vlogs, and other forms of self-promoting platforms, younger doctors today also have no issue documenting their experiences or lending their personal and professional perspectives to TED talks. This allows them to build more meaningful connections in the virtual space as well as in person. For the savvy millennial doctor, technology helps them humanise their profession, extend the continuum of care to a wider spectrum, and circumvent the time-scarce world in which they now operate.

Aside from being adaptable to new platforms for patient engagement, modern physicians must also be quick to respond to a host of emerging technologies that are reshaping their role.

Data collected with digital therapeutics such as ingestible or implantable sensors can support doctors in remotely managing medication adherence for patients with chronic conditions. Telehealth and virtual hospitals are gaining traction for their potential to reach patients in geographically remote locations or support elderly care. In developed nations, a big push for the use of artificial intelligence in improving diagnosis is helping doctors offer quicker, more accurate insights for patients.

And the doctor scribbling prescriptions on a physical card and handing that off to clinic assistants for dispensation, or patients submitting their prescription chits at a pharmacy? Robot technology is changing that. In a new polyclinic in Singapore, prescriptions are sent electronically from doctors to the pharmacy; robot technology collects and packages the medications, which is then distributed to patients by pharmacy staff, ensuring that patients receive their medications more quickly and accurately.

We are now bordering on a reality in which “home-spitals” – where medical conditions can be treated from the comfort of a patient’s home – or having a drone drop off your medication is less imagination and more imminent.

In a data-filled, always-on, device-dependent atmosphere, the dissolution of boundaries between work and life can be overwhelming for anyone, regardless of the year in which they were born. And as consumers increasingly seek a healthcare experience that is as seamless and transparent as ordering groceries from Amazon or booking an Uber, doctors today are faced with an even larger burden of expectations.

As someone who qualified as a pharmacist before the World Wide Web was invented, I fully appreciate this brave new world in which they contend. The business of healthcare today is undoubtedly more demanding (and competitive), but with disruption comes new opportunities to bring about a quantum leap in patient outcomes and experiences.

As Atul Gawande pointed out in a recent opinion piece for The New Yorker, “the more capacity we develop to monitor the body and the brain for signs of future breakdown and to correct course along the way—to deliver “precision medicine,” as the lingo goes—the greater the difference healthcare can make in people’s lives, as well as in reducing future costs.”

Despite its challenges, hyperconnectivity in a digital age has also given us new ways to collaborate. And it is in collaboration that we will find the key to the future of healthcare.

Gan Kim Yong, Singapore’s Minister for Health, very aptly said in an article for HealthInvestor Asia, “The transformation of our healthcare ecosystem and workforce is a journey. It is a journey that we need to take together – as leaders, educators, researchers, industry partners, healthcare workers, patients, caregivers as well as individuals”.

In a landscape where established doctors and pharmacists today are searching for the right balance in their redefined roles, a new wave of millennial physicians may provide valuable insights. So too can those that have come before them. It is through this synergy that we will find novel ways to simplify the ecosystem together, allowing doctors, regardless of which generation they belong, to go further in their primary mandate – saving lives.


Richard Saynor is senior vice president of classic & established products at GSK




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