I can very clearly remember a conversation I had with my father almost 20 years or so ago. He had just purchased a new car and at that time, it was becoming popular to have mobile phones installed as an option. My dad’s reasons for having this extra feature seemed legitimate. He felt that he might need to be reachable when outside of the office. Personal mobile phones were also becoming more common at the time and although a bit large and heavy compared to today’s handsets, I asked whether he would have just been better off with one of those. He strongly opposed the idea. I can very clearly remember him saying to me “No way. I don’t want to be reachable all the time!”
Fast forward 20 years. I’m on the phone with my father helping him troubleshoot his new BlackBerry. It had suddenly stopped delivering emails and he was on the verge of digital rage. His installed car phone gone long ago and now replaced by this new device allowing anyone, anywhere in the world to call him, text him, email him or instant message him. When it doesn’t work correctly, my father gets close to melting. The amusing part of this story is that as we’re trying to figure out what was wrong with the device, my father was surrounded by both a regular telephone and a computer, two items which effectively do the very things he’s struggling with on his handheld. Only technology has the ability to create such behaviour.
When Cyclone Gene bore down on Fiji a few weeks back, most people knew that it would be a matter of time before services started being cut off. Power went out for my family in the early evening Monday night. By late that evening, the phones were dead. The following morning, we had no running water. Fortunately (or not depending upon how you see it), my BlackBerry chugged along delivering emails, phone calls and messages. It was the only electronic sound emanating from within my house, in fact. At the height of the storm as the winds raged and as trees groaned and fell in the neighbourhood, I remained connected. I even kept ongoing web updates of what was happening around me. These updates were followed by random people around the world who were interested in the storm’s impact on Suva. Perhaps they had friends or family here. Perhaps they had business here. Perhaps they had very little else to do. Doesn’t really matter.
As my family fell asleep, I sat awake keeping the updates going every hour or so. I didn’t feel scared during this storm but knowing my family was safely beside me and having some sort of virtual lifeline to the outside world still made it easier. This is the second time in my life where just having the ability to message and communicate with others helped reduce strain. The first time was on the morning of September 11th, 2001 in lower Manhattan and although that situation was so vastly different, I nevertheless remembered how my BlackBerry service functioned as a lifeline back then as well.
Unrelated to the recent weather unpleasantness in the country but still very much related to how communications impact our lives, I came across a website the other day which really blew me away. It belongs to a doctor in the New York City area who is using the Internet to redefine the very nature of how doctors treat their patients or, at the very least, how he’ll be treating his patients.
Dr. Jay Parkinson (www.jayparkinsonmd.com) is not a fan of the traditional doctor-patient relationship in the United States. After graduating from medical school, he decided against the more typical approach of joining a practice and seeing countless patients all day, every day. He appears to have sat back and considered what would truly make an good experience for his patients. He ended up with a remarkable and completely original approach to healthcare which captures the personalisation, customisation and collaboration of a connected world.
If you’re sick, you don’t go to Dr. Parkinson. He’ll visit you in person if necessary but first, you’ll tell him what’s wrong with you over email, text or chat. Alternatively, you can videoconference with him over the Internet and show him the ailment. Dr. Parkinson believes that most of the problems patients face can very effectively be managed and treated in this way and he’s proving this hypothesis everyday. Upon giving a prognosis to patients, he’ll then tap into his network of trusted specialists and send the patient directly to them for treatment. With so many Americans living without health insurance (and even for many with insurance), this kind of service can save enormous amounts of time and money.
His website gives a comprehensive yet simple overview of how the system works, much better than I could ever in this column so it’s worth a visit. Even if the model Dr. Parkinson has built sounds a bit alien in this country, it does represent the future of medicine. Already in Fiji, doctors are collaborating and communicating with other doctors domestic and abroad in order to more accurately diagnose their patients. The only difference with Dr. Parkinson is the way he integrates his patients into this process.
If nothing else, Dr. Parkinson’s imaginative and straightforward approach to patient relationships and service is a model worthwhile for any professional to follow. It’s just another way that technology and communications can provide a new level of comfort in our world that might not necessarily have been around before. What just 20 years ago might have appeared to be undesirable is now offering a comfort and flexibility never before imagined. That’s pretty cool.
From FijiTimes 9 February 2008
Jonathan Segal is the Managing Director and CEO of Oceanic Communications (www.oceanic.com.fj), an advertising, marketing and technology agency in Suva. Feel free to send comments and topic suggestions to email@example.com