Technology Doesn’t Have to Be the Antithesis of Humanity

In a commentary for Modern Healthcare, North Carolina physician Chris DeRienzo asks a question that we’ve also been exploring with great interest and passion: “Could technology actually return some humanity to healthcare?” DeRienzo believes it can, and we agree, of course.

DeRienzo writes, “Ask clinicians what brings them professional joy and you'll invariably hear one answer: spending time with their patients. … Yet 21st century healthcare pulls providers away from this core person-to-person interaction more than ever.” He adds that the technology we’re currently using in our practice of medicine can seem “seem like the antithesis of humanity—it doesn't feel, doesn't connect, and too often pulls people away from human contact.”

But it doesn’t have to be an obstacle to connection. Here’s how DeRienzo says machine-learning algorithms, artificial intelligence and telemedicine are helping clinicians at Mission Health, where he is a neonatologist and chief quality officer, actually spend more time with patients:

·      To target care-management team interventions

“The better we get at identifying who our care managers should help, the more time they can spend doing what brings them joy: helping patients.”

·      To prioritize rounds

“Models can predict impending doom by aggregating elements of patients' clinical digital exhaust, thus directing clinicians where and when to act before a decline becomes a disaster.”

·      To collaborate on care and involve the patient

“We can bring the neurologist, the ED doctor and the family all together at the bedside for a Wi-Fi-enabled face-to-face evaluation and conversation”

This kind of promise – what DeRienzo describes as the facilitation “more of the right kinds of human-to-human contacts” – is part of what we addressed in a symposium this spring: “Human Intelligence and Artificial Intelligence in Medicine.” At the symposium we also emphasized the importance of being purposeful and thoughtful with the implementation of technology to avoid unintended consequences (as with the challenges created by the EHR, for example).

Later this month, we’ll examine how to avoid another pitfall of technology: bias. On August 22, we’re hosting another symposium, “AI in Medicine: Inclusion and Equity,” where we’ll take a look at  how AI and technology can help address the deeper problems of access and inequity in healthcare.

As DeRienzo’s column makes clear, there’s a lot of potential for technology and medicine. It can make us better at what we do and give us more time to connect with patients. We also want to be sure we’re not so focused on the hope and the hype that we are blind to the potential peril.


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