Doctors and other healthcare professionals must prepare for the rise of 'ePatients' in the coming years and keep apace with the evolving digital landscape.
This is according to the 2012 version of 'Learning to manage Health Information', a clinical education guide that has been running since 1999.
Its aim is to understand the digital world and healthcare professionals' working requirements within it.
This year's focus is on the rise of the ePatients, who come to surgeries armed with information found on the internet about their condition - and are often more digitally aware than their doctor.
The guide says that in the near future, clinicians will be dealing more and more with the ePatient, adding that: "today, such patients need not be mere recipients of care and can become key decision-makers in their treatment process."
It adds: "Self-management programmes can be designed specifically to reduce the severity of symptoms [...], whilst online communities of patients, sharing knowledge and information about specific conditions or providing mutual support are increasingly common."
This will also see patients work in partnership with their health and social care providers, meaning they can be given greater control over their health and lives - messages pharma is also keen to deliver.
The guide says that a good example of this is Renal PatientView, which provides online information about renal patients' diagnosis, treatment, and their latest test results.
There is a potential opportunity here for pharma, as the ePatient can be informed by the industry and may be looking on pharma websites - or industry-sponsored disease awareness campaigns - for information.
Things like the Renal PatientView are already being done by firms in the guise of smartphone/tablet apps, and will be familiar to pharma.
So there could room for the industry and the more digitally savvy healthcare professionals to work on digital campaigns together, as a way of delivering more information to the patient, and for both to learn from each other on what works, and what doesn't.
This could create a new relationship between pharma, patient and doctor - all within the regulations of European law and the ABPI Code, of course.
This is also a good indicator of how patients are using digital, with the guide seeing this as changing the relationship between doctor and patient, where "the power of knowledge is held as much by patients as by their clinicians", such is the strength of digital.
Pharma could learn much by how patients are using this sort of information, and arm patients with more information, whilst also increasing marketing opportunities.
But pharma shouldn't get too giddy about these opportunities, as the guide does not paint the picture of an aspiring digital culture coming from today's healthcare professionals.
Its rather glum conclusion states: "Many healthcare professionals continue to have limited or no education in informatics and yet the expectations of them to manage information effectively is a current and increasing requirement".
Furthermore, one of the educational courses for healthcare professionals set out in this year's guide will raise some eyebrows.
Headed under 'NHS Elite', those who have completed this course must be able to "restore and empty files from the Recycle Bin" and be able to 'access help' - perhaps the most important one to learn if you're struggling to delete a file successfully.
And this is the 'elite' level of training - one wonders what the basic level might entail.
Writing for the Guardian's Healthcare Network, Dick Vinegar (a pseudonym, of course), a specialist in health and IT, says: "I get the impression that although [the team who write the guide] was set up in 1999 and has been bashing away relentlessly, it has not made much progress in educating the lumpen mass of clinicians to make them ready for the digital age."
He said that many of them still have not got their heads around simple systems like 'Choose and Book', e-prescribing and Summary Care records.
"Assuming that most clinicians have achieved some keyboard skills over the years and can write emails and manipulate spreadsheets, doesn't mean they have a real understanding of what they ought to know about IT or how it can improve the care they provide to patients and make their own lives easier.
"What is scary is how much there is for them [clinicians] to learn," he concludes.
Younger doctors and other healthcare workers coming through the ranks will be more digitally aware than those educated in the 1960s and 1970s, the guide adds, but it seems that both patients and pharma may have to wait a little bit longer for the 'eDoctor'. (inpharm.com)