In the excitement of having mobile access to all our patients’ data, are we doctors giving up the last shreds of that non-renewable resource – our free time ? Dr. Wes asks this important question in his recent blog post titled “When the Doctor’s Always In“. Dr. Westby Fisher is a cardiac electrophysiologist in Chicago and if you do not already follow his excellent medical blog, I highly recommend you check it out.

jail cells.jpgIn this post, he makes a very real observation:

we’re seeing a powerful force emerge – a subtle marketing of limitless physician availability facilitated by the advance of the electronic medical record, social media, and smart phones. Doctors, you see, must be always present, always available, always giving.

The dark side of having access mobile access to patient information is that you never leave the office. While all physicians have to struggle with balancing the demands of their profession with their family life, for most docs being at home and not on call meant being away from work. But, as patient care continues to generate more information per patient, the trend is to incrementally blur this separation.

To preserve their personal life and get home at a reasonable hour each day, test reviews and patient communications are increasingly performed from home – all for free.

Doctors already have to contend with patient emails (and sometimes Tweets and Facebook invites), but, Dr. Wes asks

Should our medical students expect that their lives will be surrendered to their patients, free of charge, as they answer the never-ending bounty of health care questions online?

Better integrated electronic health records and increasingly powerful and always-connected smartphones clearly will help us take better care of our patients. The question is who is going to take care of the doctors ?