The Land of Oz

File under: Digital Health, Healthcare innovation, Mobile Health, Patient Engagement

Dr. Oz and celebrity doctors like him have stirred up the medical community. Regardless of what you think about the accuracy of Dr. Oz’s claims and advice, he has created a huge audience of four million viewers who look to him for medical, health and nutrition advice.

While I don’t have the clinical background to judge the truthfulness of Dr. Oz’s advice, I do know that he’s leveraging media and technology in a very fresh and powerful way to enable and support patient empowerment. His platform puts medical and health information into the hands of millions of consumers. Dr. Oz’s approach is filling an unmet need in the medical community: helping patients to truly learn and understand their health.

OzThe Perfect Storm
It really is a perfect storm of trend, technology and media. Patients really want to understand how to live healthier, and cable television and digital media and apps have made access to fresh content cheap, convenient and ubiquitous. But this shift has upset the natural order of traditional patient-doctor relationships.

Physicians working in the traditional health care system are often overburdened and don’t really have the bandwidth to create new ways of doing things. So along comes a physician, Dr. Oz, who is able to break down health, healthcare and medicine in very simple ways that make it accessible to the population – and consumers are embracing that. The magic of Dr. Oz’s approach is that it’s engaging, accessible, simple and motivating.

What can we learn from Dr. Oz?
While there has been negative press about Dr. Oz’s endorsements of weight-loss products, there are people, particularly those who may not have a primary care physician, who use his advice to make decisions about their health. So before we attempt to silence or disparage him, I think it is better for us to look at what Dr. Oz is doing right and what we can learn from his success, especially at the physician level. What can physicians learn from Dr. Oz’s simple, clear explanations of what’s happening in the body, and how can they incorporate that into their patient relationships?

The patient empowerment movement isn’t going away, and we shouldn’t want it to, so it is important for physicians to embrace the patient’s willingness to learn and understand medicine and how it affects their bodies.

What would your doctor do?
In a recent discussion with a physician friend, I asked if an app could help support the doctor-patient relationship. And while she explained that no app could replace her relationship with her patients, she did note that it would be helpful to have tools that help patients understand various medication regimens, especially for those who use a statin or insulin. Many self-medicating patients have to understand how to titrate or fine-tune their food intake, and that can get complicated.

A mobile app that would supplement the disease, lifestyle and/or medication education that is often not possible within a fifteen-minute doctor’s visit, or a mobile tool that could provide remote patient decision support in-between office visits would be valuable. Not to replace the physician-patient relationship but to support it.

Tapping into the Oz playbook
To take a page from Dr. Oz’s playbook, pharma could tap into this unmet need. A brand could develop a simple but engaging disease-specific communication app that would enable patients to understand what’s happening in their bodies so they can make more informed decisions about medication and lifestyle changes. The key is to make it “engaging, accessible, simple and motivating.”

There are still many unmet needs in the support of good physician-patient relationships, needs that pharma could help address. To the extent that pharma can provide value over and above their pharmaceutical products, the more they will become part of the comprehensive healthcare solution.

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