On my first day of clinical rotations in medical school, I felt like I entered a time warp back to 1997. I communicated with my team through a dusty pager. I requested patient medical records through a (broken) fax machine. I carried CDs of patient imaging to radiology rounds. I was shocked at the technological disparities between medicine, so often assumed to be cutting-edge, and the modern society at large. Even more surprising, however, was the seemingly universal disdain for technology among senior physicians, often driving tension between tech-savvy medical students and senior attendings. I recall looks of horror and judgment when I referred to my iPad during patient rounds (given to us by the school exactly for this purpose), as if I were caught cheating on a test. I soon realized that I should leave the iPad at home if I was to be accepted by this technologically deficient community.
So why are doctors so reluctant to adapt? I’ve often heard the response that “technology takes the humanity out of medicine.” Screens and pixels are no substitute for the healing power of the human touch! Digitization is simply disruptive to the holy doctor-patient relationship!
But who are we to turn up our noses at “human-less” methods of communication the rest of humanity has clearly embraced?
As we enter the mobilization Renaissance, doctors’ dismissal of using technology in medicine may bring about our profession’s demise. Patients have become accustomed to convenience of mobile apps and remote communication. They want live video doctor visits and secure platforms to ask their doctor quick questions.
Our refusal to participate in the digital age will soon create barriers for patients to receive quality medical care. Just as the taxicab business suffered tremendously with the adoption of Uber, patient compliance and attendance could plummet as Silicon Valley invents virtual doctors whose convenience will render us an antiquity. If we want medical care to remain in the hands of those who attended medical school, we must adapt our communication practices to that of our patients.
Most leading physicians, however, are of an age that has spent more of their lives typing on a typewriter than sitting in front of a computer. Watching a senior physician struggle to document a patient visit on an electronic medical record evokes the same painful reaction as watching a squinty-eyed mom attempt to compose a text message—one letter at a time—with her index finger. No wonder they prefer the fax machine.
The burden of modernizing medicine rests, therefore, on the upcoming classes of Millennial physicians. We will be the first physicians who unconsciously integrated digital and mobile technology into our normal lexicon, and therefore understand the humanistic value of these media. We have seen how texting, Facebook, and Skype have allowed us to experience and maintain relationships without spatial and temporal limitations. We must apply these experiences to our practice and become advocates for embracing the use of communication technologies in medicine. We must also play a more active role in the development of medical technology than did our predecessors. We must make technology work for us, instead of becoming its’ victim.
Time to send the pager to palliative care.