The Health Section

Tomorrow’s doctors need compassion, leadership and patient focus

Compassion is a unique characteristic.

This simple truth is integral to the evolution of health care and the role of physicians in the future. No matter how sophisticated technology gets, computers and data can’t offer compassion, but they can dramatically change where, how, when and what care is provided.

This evolution is already changing the way we think about the doctors of tomorrow.

In a peer-reviewed article recently published in the journal Academic Medicine, I argued that the emerging model of health care will not only be fundamentally different from the traditional fee-for-service model, but it will require a whole new way of thinking for physicians.

What will the physicians of the future look like and how will they operate? We can expect that physicians will play an important role when patient care is more “art” than science or can’t be automated. This will increase the pressure on academic medical institutions to look for and develop the personality and skill sets necessary to fill the void left by technology.

While shortages generally predict increased demand, things could take a different turn, accelerating more than just the need for more doctors, but demand for a new breed of physician.

Consumer-directed health care, where patients are more actively engaged in their own health and wellness, is accelerating this move to what I call the “third curve” of health care. The first curve is characterized by the familiar fee-for-service approach to delivering medical care, where each activity is a billable event. Ian Morrison defined the second curve as population health, where the medical community started to focus on the bigger picture of disease and condition management, including the idea that prevention and wellness efforts can make a significant difference in the progress of chronic conditions.

As we enter the third curve of health care, we acknowledge that patients, not physicians, own their health.

New resources and tools will enable each individual to take more ownership, become more likely to adhere to care plans, and feel empowered to take charge of their well-being. Doctors must embrace these new tools and resources, such as mobile apps, telemedicine, home health, urgent care centers and other technologies to improve the health of patients. By the same token, Aetna has the opportunity to play a critical role in personalizing each member’s health and wellness “ecosystem” over time, beginning in the home and extending out into the community by partnering with health care providers through the use of innovative tools and data analytics.

Collaboration will be the key to leading us into the future. If the doctor-patient relationship is to be preserved, physicians must be trained to serve as leaders of multidisciplinary teams that work to address all five determinants of health.

Source: Schroeder SA, New England Journal of Medicine, September 2007; adapted from McGinnis JM, Russo PG, Knickman JR, Health Affairs, April 2002

As a former dean of two medical schools, I know that we have a responsibility to train students to succeed in this new world order of consumer-driven health care. By 2025, we will face a physician shortage of 90,000. While shortages generally predict increased demand, I believe that in Curve III things could take a different turn, accelerating more than just the need for more doctors, but demand for a new breed of physician.

With the capabilities, strengths and challenges of all of the players in the health care system, I see a remarkable path forward. Our successful move into the next curve of health care will be predicated on putting patients first, emphasizing compassion, embracing change, and building both hard knowledge and soft skill training into the programs that are building our future medical professionals.

For more information about this article, please visit the Academic Medicine website.