Technology is nothing. What’s important is that you have a faith in people, that they’re basically good and smart, and if you give them tools, they’ll do wonderful things with them.
– Steve Jobs: Rolling Stone Magazine, 1994
This may come as a shock to you, but I am NOT Steve Jobs.
I know… I’ll give you a minute to let this sink in.
I’m a doctor, and at HIMSS on February 12th I get to deliver the conference’s first ever SPARK session on my big idea: Technology does NOT have to suck the humanity out of the practice of medicine. Rather, I think that with shared purpose and the right approach to design, development, and deployment, today’s generation of AI-powered health IT tools can actually return some humanity to healthcare. To understand how though, we need to start with why today’s approach is failing.
Take medical records as a simple example. I am 100 percent certain that today’s medical students are much slower walkers than me. Why? Because the days of sprinting on rounds to get ahead of the white coat phalanx, pull down a cabinet and open a three-ring binder chart to the next blank page before the intern reaches the door ended a decade ago. Today’s medical students are instead both blessed and cursed with electronic medical records (EMRs) and patient care technologies that track and trend every aspect of the inpatient and outpatient course, demanding hours of tedious, field-driven data entry while yielding treasure troves of mineable new information.
With technology is now integrated into nearly every aspect of the patient-provider relationship, it’s crucial to note what patient care technology can’t do: it can’t replace our humanity. No EMR can ease the despair of parents whose child you’ve just diagnosed with cancer, or with parents-to-be whose baby is being born weeks too early to survive. These conversations require human compassion, and sharing compassion is core to our humanity.
In centuries past, this human-to-human connection was all healthcare had to offer (beyond perhaps blood-letting). As a result, the human connection came to define the practice of medicine from Asclepius to Osler. Today’s technological transformation has opened panoplies of new treatment doors to walk through with our patients, yet too often detracts from instead of supports such a vital part of the practice of medicine as sharing our humanity.
This challenge begs THE Jobsian question, the main subject of the SPARK session – can we, with great intentionality, use AI as a tool to actually return some humanity to healthcare?
The answer is YES. Read more at my HIMSS blog post or join me on the 12th at 3PM in room W300. Also, given the structure of the SPARK sessions – specifically, without designated time for Q&A – feel free to drop me a note below if you’ll be attending so we can connect on your questions, comments, or other thoughts after the talk!
Dr. Chris DeRienzo is a physician leader from North Carolina and author of the book Tiny Medicine – One Doctor’s Biggest Lessons from His Smallest Patients. All views expressed here are his alone and are not attributable to any entity with which he may be affiliated. Follow him on Twitter at @ChrisDeRienzoMD and on LinkedIn.