Wireless Plastic Surgery and Medical Care

While my parents, and their parents, have lived much of their lives with fairly similar methods of doing business, the present world has seen a near total transformation in just the past decade. The merging of two initially unrelated technologies, electronic communication (now wireless) and social networking, have created a paradigm shift in societal thinking and strategies. While most who will read this have felt the impact on their business and personal lives, health care is one area where an equal transformation is rapidly occurring.

Plastic surgery has been one of the early adopters of both social networking and digital communication in the medical world. Part of this is because so much of plastic surgery is visual. Almost all of what we do can be seen and easily imaged. This is a double edged-sword as assessment is easy but with that can come an equal opportunity for criticism. Plastic surgeons rely on imaging only less than that of radiologists, whose entire practice is essentially the analysis of complex three-dimensional arrays of pixels. While a plastic surgery patient can provide great verbal detail and descriptions of their concerns, a good picture or two can leapfrog hundreds (or is it thousands?) of words.

Because of the need to market fee-for-service elective surgery, social networking sites have become a popular medium for plastic surgeons and numerous other practitioners of cosmetic services. In the old days (2000?), one would rent a hotel conference room  and put on an evening program for the public. Advertising by word of mouth or newpaper ads might get an audience of 50 to 75 people. Post  a blog or a promo on Facebook or Twitter and the potential exposure is to thousands.

I could pontificate on the medical impacts of these technologies, and there are too many to mention here, but one recent story makes the point. Driving home one evening after a day of surgery, I received a call from an emergency room halfway across the city. They had a five year-old boy that had a laceration on his forehead after his older brother  yelled, fore!, and swung. These type of calls are common in plastic surgery and despite that I would have liked to fix this child’s problem, being up since 4AM and driving 35 miles was not beyond what I could muster. I asked the emergency room doctor to pass along my regrets and asked them to call another plastic surgeon. As I was settling down for the evening and just put my feet up, I received an unrecognized e-mail on my iphone with a one sentence message and a picture attachment. The message said, ‘My son is in need of your skills.’  signed by a mother’s name I had never heard of. The picture showed a close-up of a child’s face with a laceration down the center of the forehead between the eyebrows and the scalp…right down to the bone.

I don’t need to tell you what happened later that evening.  With estimates that at least two-thirds of American physicians have smart-phones, doctors are prime targets for access from multiple wireless methods. With nimble technologies, from smart phones to  health-monitoring devices, patients as well as doctors are becoming more empowered. Will this make health care better and reduce costs? Who knows but interactive health and wellness programs already surround us. Apple alone  has thousands of health-related applications. Cell phone services using the Droid are not far behind.

Medical care is becoming more wireless at a brisk pace. While receiving the actual care still requires an in-person visit, the day may not be too far away when all you need to do is hold your cell phone next to what hurts.

Dr. Barry Eppley

Indianapolis, Indiana