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Are Social Workers & Case Managers The Next Doctors Justin Usher

April 12th, 2013

GE Ventures Panelists

On April 11, 2013 GE Ventures held the Insight Series: Digital Health. The discussion was led by NBC News’ Nancy Snyderman M.D., author Eric Topol M.D., Unity Stoakes of Startup Health and Rafael Torres of GE Ventures. The topics ranged from prescribing apps versus drugs, HIPAA’s impact on innovation in healthcare, patient privacy, and predictions for the future of healthcare.

One particularly controversial subject was the role of doctors in healthcare. Topol dove in head first, suggesting that healthcare would ultimately be driven by consumer empowerment through personal health data.

“What then is the role of the doctor?” one person asked.

“I think the future role of doctor’s is to be more of a care manager”, Topol responded.

Another hand shot up. “Do we even NEED doctors!?”

Dr. Snyderman responded — “I think doctors are still important in those end of life situations where there is nothing quite as comforting as the touch of a hand.”

Topol: “It seems that these roles of care manager and end of life comforter can be performed just as well, if not better, by social workers and nurses.”  At which point the panelists all looked at each other and seemingly shrugged.

Are social workers & case managers the next doctors?

On April 17, 2013 the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University, held its 2013 Healthcare Innovation Summit. A panel consisted of Vinod Khosla and author Abraham Verghese M.D. This time it was Vinod who brought up the controversial subject, showing statistical evidence that a doctor does misdiagnose so frequently that we need to rely on technology to handle diagnoses in general. Dr. Verghese pointed out that while this may be true, 80-90% of a doctors time isn’t spent on diagnoses but on treating chronic illness. Do we need doctors to treat chronic illnesses? Many healthcare apps today are targeting chronic illness, which begs the question – what does the future role of a doctor truly look like?


About the Author

Justin Usher is a Co-Founder of OpenPlacement and is responsible for the features related to the OpenPlacement community, online marketing and advertising technology as well as the operation of the sales and partner relations.  In addition to these functions, Justin oversees the architecture of the OpenPlacement platform by working hand-in-hand with the development team. Justin brings a unique passion and understanding of the senior care and other health related products and services. Prior to joining the OpenPlacement team, Justin spent over nine years helping grow one of the largest online direct marketing companies from unprofitable start-up to IPO. Once public, Justin ventured out on his own to combine his passion for entrepreneurship with his expertise in online media.  Justin has a B.A. in Computer Science from the University of Richmond.


  1. Devontexas April 12, 2013

    I believe the shrug was because tha concept of doctors becomming obsolete is preposterous. Ain’t gonna happen. It would be like saying social workers will be replaced by R.N.s. However in this changing technology, doctors need to keep up to the latest, greatest tech. My cardiologist’s office is almost completely computerized. The tech comes in with an ipad/tablet computer and all the data is entered into their system. A few minutes later the nurse comes in, reviews the infotmation, makes some notes. Finally the doc comes in completely informed. Also he does Nuclear Imaging with his own machine. In minutes sfter a scan, he has the results on his 24 jnch monitor in his office and goes through it with the patient.

  2. Anne Llewellyn April 13, 2013

    The physician is needed to diagnosis and treat. Case Managers and Social workers do not have the competencies to diagnose and treat. The physician, case manager and the social worker should be working as a team to ensure the patient understands the plan of care, has the tools/resources to manage their care and are in place to break down barriers and assist the patient/family in navigating the healthcare system.
    I don’t consider Watson….a doctor….and hope realize healthcare is a human practice..not to be replaced by a machine….

  3. Alisa Hughley April 16, 2013

    The event sounds like it was both enjoyable and provocative. To address the question of the post…We will always need physicians for the most complex constellation of illness and the new frontiers like viruses and other disorders never before characterized. Social workers/case workers I think are invaluable in assisting patients navigate through the system and access those often elusive resources that impact the social determinants of health.

    The availability of cutting edge medical technology gives me peace of mind but I know the real medical advances of this generation—the ones to save the greatest number of lives will come from what we do in the realm of health and prevention.


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