How digital health affects the patient-physician relationship: An empirical-ethics study into the perspectives and experiences in obstetric care

K R Jongsma, M N Bekker, S Haitjema, A L Bredenoord

Published: August 2021

Background Digital health technologies are believed to change the patient-physician relationship. Such changes are still speculative, as there are no studies in which both patients and health care professionals are asked for their experiences and perspectives on how digital health affects the patient-physician relationship. Methods We performed a qualitative interview study (n = 25) to identify relevant aspects of the patient-physician relationship as perceived by both health care professionals (n = 14) and patients (n = 11) of a digital monitoring platform for hypertensive disorders related to pregnancy. We focus on roles, responsibilities and medical decision-making. Results Digital monitoring helps patients to better understand their own condition and contributes to shared decision-making in terms of information exchange. Yet for clinical decision-making both patients and health care professionals argue that health care professionals should stay in the lead. The collected data is by some health care professionals considered hard data that allows objective and more standardized decision-making, while others believe digital monitoring requires further interpretation in order to personalize the clinical care to the patient. Conclusion Digital technologies have subtle, yet double-edged, effects on the patient-physician relationship in terms of roles and responsibilities and the value addressed to the digital data. These insights let to 6 ethical recommendations for the implementation of digital health technologies to replace and support clinical care.

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