Physician viewpoint: Beware of 'big data' depersonalizing healthcare

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Today, many physicians have access to medical history, preference and risk information for each patient they examine. However, this data is often used to depersonalize, rather than humanize, healthcare, Kirsten Meisinger, MD, wrote in a Nov. 13 op-ed published on athenaInsight.

"This data, more often than not, are being used not to personalize patient care, but for mass outreach to large populations of patients," wrote Dr. Meisinger, medical staff president of Cambridge (Mass.) Health Alliance and family physician at Somerville, Mass.-based Union Square Family Health.

This "mass outreach" often involves allowing algorithms to deliver automated prompts to patients for preventive health services, such as mammograms. However, for Dr. Meisinger, a more effective process would involve working one-on-one with each patient to ascertain the best care for their circumstance.

The process, which Dr. Meisinger referred to as "person-centered care," necessitates providers value "honest, transparent conversations," over rushed visits that simply ask patients to comply with recommended metrics that are standardized across a population.

As an example, Dr. Meisinger shared how she encourages patients with diabetes to control their blood sugar. "They felt that we cared when we called them and reminded them how to take care of themselves. People don't necessarily imbue that same emotion to a robo call."

"There is an inherent tension between population health management and person-centered care," she wrote. "One that must be resolved if we are to realize all the benefits of big data in healthcare."

To access Dr. Meisinger's op-ed, click here.

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