While advances in science and technology continue to be at the forefront of the evolution of medical practice, the 21st century is also undergoing a unique and profound cultural shift that is changing the very nature of what it means to be a medical professional, namely humankind's transition to an information-based internet society. Medical care will increasingly depend on computer-generated probabilities guided and supported by a growing variety of health care-related professions, including statisticians, technologists, and information managers. Perhaps the biggest challenge to the profession will come from the erosion of professional autonomy, driven by smart machines, social networks, and internet search engines. As a result of these and other changes, physicians are facing a systematic loss of control, often without the direct input and leadership of the profession itself. In this commentary, the author urges the profession to adopt several strategies, including shifting its focus from reimbursement to the care patients value most, meaningfully addressing critical issues in health policy, becoming the definitive source for publicly available medical information, reimagining medical education, and overhauling the existing accreditation and licensing systems. Medical education must go beyond a focus on physicians whose professional identity revolves around being the exclusive source of medical knowledge. In the digitized 21st century, medical education should emphasize the centrality of the humanistic interface with patients such that the doctor-patient relationship is paramount in the complex medical world of machines and social media. Removing the roadblocks to successful professional reform is no small task, but the process can begin with a grassroots movement that empowers physicians and facilitates organizational and behavioral change. Failure to take action may well hasten the diminishment of patient care and the profession's trusted role in society.
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