Losing Touch

We need to be careful that the laying on of hands is not replaced by the tapping of thumbs. If it is, we will have to grapple with the consequences.

We all know that healthcare is undergoing spasmodic change. In an effort to cut costs, improve outcomes and the patient/doctor experience and population health, we've embraced technology as the answer. Every day, the media and blogosphere tell us about the latest and greatest test, robot, digital health product, gadget, gizmo or what-its. The technogurus and consultants have cracked the code. Really?

John Naisbitt highlighted the high tech-high touch conundrum in his 1982 book, Megatrends and expanded on the theme 17 years later in High Tech High Touch. Proving that there is nothing new under the sun, Fast Company co-founder Bill Taylor notes that the power of industries and businesses that are facilitated by technology is driven by the human touch.

In health care, we run the risk of forgetting that healing is one of the most human experiences. By substituting technology for human interaction, we run the risk of permanently changing the dynamics of the doctor-patient relationship and its power. While technology and mHealth certainly have the potential to democratize care and thus create better outcomes and efficiencies, at the same time we need to balance the technology invasion with humanity and personal connection.

So, how do health care workers and their organizations do that?

Taylor suggests 3 ways:

• Capitalize on what makes you unique.

• Create meaning and camaraderie at every level of the organization.

• Be kind—it’s more important than being clever.

Telemedicine and remote sensing are cases in point. The issues is whether teledocs should be able to diagnosis and prescribe medicines for those patients they have never seen face to face. What really establishes a "doctor-patient relationship" beyond a legal definition and how does it affect outcomes and compliance?

As health care organizations consolidate and more and more doctors become employees, there is a risk of distancing patients. Technology threatens the core values of medicine. On the other hand, maybe technocare will simply redefine the relationship.

We need to be careful that the laying on of hands is not replaced by the tapping of thumbs. If it is, we will have to grapple with the consequences.