“Long live the renaissance!” ... Oh not the corruption hatao one!

Let me rephrase it...“Long live the “Web Medical Consult” Renaissance!”

Yes, a method of consulting a doctor without even going to one has finally arrived! Yes, it is a rebirth of sorts for medical consultation.  And yes, it has just taken its first steps. 

In this century, where time literally means money (although paradoxically no one has time) and people are juggling time every single day, health care has taken a back seat. At a time, where all information is literally at the tip of your finger through your androids and iPhones, expectations that medical health care should also be ‘convenient and quick’ is becoming the basic expectation of the people. At a time, where we see so many ‘inflummercials’ (I have termed this as a short form for influential commercials) describing a certain product or even a doctor or a health care personnel ‘curing’ or ‘treating’ you in 15 or 7 or (by jove) 3 days, that people are demanding treatments to be quick. What is even scarier for us doctors is that ‘curing the disease’ is supposed to be the RULE and has become a basic expectation! The fact that diseases are treated over a period of time and that there are certain diseases that are not curable, just treatable ( yes there is a difference) seems surreal to most people. A doctor that says the forbidden sentence: “treatment mein time lagega” is considered  to be uttering gibberish!

How, you will ask, am I that confident when I say that ‘surrealistic medical care expectations’ are the basic norm today?  Well, I got a chance to be on the giving end of such a web based consult recently. And let me tell you that the amount of experience that I have gotten through this particular stunt is maybe 10 times more than the amount of experience I have gotten in the past 7 years of private practice. So many people from so many different parts of the country, at times from neighbouring countries like Bangladesh too, have availed of this web consultation since it was launched. For me as a dermatologist, I am pleasantly surprised at how aware today’s generation has become. Far more than my generation ever was. I don’t even want to start describing how aloof my parents’ generation was when it came to their skin or even health. Having said that, this pleasant surprise didn’t last for long, because even though people were more concerned about their skin issues they were also heading in the way of (and I am sorry to even say this) utter obsession and narcissism. I owe this to the countless number of commercials, the media and not to forget todays ‘idols’, promoting a bloated self image (I mean who are we kidding... even our dearest Lord Ganesha comes with a 6 pack these days!).

So, pure obsession + surreal expectations which cannot be fulfilled = Utter Dejection 

 Not only for the self... but for the dermatologist who is telling you the truth. 

But is this dejected population solely to be blamed ? Let me, at the cost of annoying a few people, shed some light on today’s dermatologist. Because there are ‘out of the world’ expectations from the dermatologist who is very much still a part of this world, today's dermatologist find it hard to cope up with these expectations! Competition, from all fronts(FMCG commercials, Salons, Wellness Spas), has consumed the simple mindset of the dermatologist. So, even though the profession looks utterly glamorous, today’s dermatologist goes to his or her clinic as if going to face a battle. And this battle that he/she is expected to fight isn’t based on his/her clinical skills anymore ... it is based on the expectations that are set by today’s quintessential consumer... Yes, I used the word consumer not patient. And what is even more disheartening is that, we as dermatologists are continuing to treat them as consumers. And let’s say, even if we do treat them as the consumer and we no longer run a private practice but a big skin wellness centre... then what would be the hall mark of a good centre? A satisfied consumer leaving the center with a wide toothy grin (the teeth being taken care of the smile surgeon(dentist) who is appointed in the clinic) right?. But I sincerely don’t see that happening. The bigger the ‘centre’ or more popular the dermatologist, there are more number of people left feeling even worse than what they felt when they first went there. 

It is this group of people who I had a chance to chat with and believe me, I was left at times speechless.

 - False promises not amounting to any result: not an uncommon occurrence. 

-Incomplete information and lack of time given by the dermatologist: not an uncommon complaint. 

-“The doctor gave me this list of medicines and didn’t explain much” : not an uncommon occurrence. 

It is these people, who went out into the world, with utmost scepticism and lack of faith for the next dermatologist (the next one being me in this case). And with complete lack of trust but with intangible expectations (thinking that like google I would give them quick and easy solutions) they initiated a chat on the web only to hear that the problems they faced wouldn’t be treated ‘quickly’. It was a nightmare for them to hear that it would at times require multiple follow ups just to see even a small change! They felt sheer anger to hear that for certain medicines they would need a physical examination and only a web consult would be risky. But they didn’t care for their health! Even though they were chatting to improve on their health. They were willing to use medicines which could possibly put their health at risk. Paradoxical and howsoever unbelievable this might seem, this was a ‘basic’ expectation. But here too, I wouldn’t put the blame solely on the consumer... there were doctors (dermatologists and others) who were prescribing (prescription medicines) these medicines to them!

 What happened to the good ol’ patient who personally went to the doctor and what happened to the doctor who gave time to the patient? Why are we seeing this skewed demographic? Who is to be blamed? If eiter of the side is to be blamed, is it right to blame anyone at all?

Bah! I don’t want to get all philosophical on you guys (don’t want those few of you who are still reading this article to run away!). But you got to admit that it is a catch 22 situation we are in. “Did the chicken come first or the egg?” But I don’t want to start a blame game here. As they say “ taali ek haath se nahi bajti” ... it takes “two to tango”.

So what are we going to do about this? I am very new, an infant almost, in the field of healthcare. So I haven’t really penned down my thoughts to show off my ‘gyaan’ as you might think (although I have come across as a pompous gyaani). And thus, when I ask what are we to do, I  pose this question to both : the patients and the doctors. How do we change this situation? In a time where a web medical consult should come as a boon: helping people till they can actually visit a doctor... it might just turn out to be bane... where expectations aren’t fulfilled. 

Personally, I would really want this platform to gather momentum. There are so many people who, even today, cannot access basic healthcare but ironically are a part of the dotcom revolution, who would benefit in so many ways. I am glad that I am a part of this revolution but more than anything I really hope that this revolution doesn't phase out because we as doctors and patients couldn't bridge the gap that lay between expectations and reality.