By Jack Cochran, MD
In today’s health care field, technology has enabled the unprecedented ability to gather and share information and support physicians in ways that could only be imagined in recent decades. Electronic health records, smart phones, and intelligence like IBM’s Watson are accelerating the rate of information sharing and redefining the “office visit” for patients and physicians alike.
This powerful shift has taken us from the Industrial Age to the Information Age where our questions have evolved from, “How often should you see a patient?” to “What’s the best way to monitor a condition?” and, “How can we encourage patients to follow prevention protocols?” to, “How can we create systems that increase preventative outcomes?”
And, yet, with the availability of more and more tools to increase productivity, the need for patient-centered care has never been greater. Technology is certainly transforming what is possible in medicine. At the same time, the very human qualities of experience, intuition, attention, empathy, and comfort – noble traits exemplified in TV’s Marcus Welby, M.D. – are more important than ever.
We’ll all be patients someday. What do we need and want? When we think about health care do we seek out a hospital? Do we seek out a particular insurance company? More likely, we seek out a doctor. One who is qualified in an area that is relevant to our medical needs. But, more importantly, we want to know that our doctor will listen – with attention, with empathy, and with care.
Today, we have access to extraordinary tools that provide us with more data and information about our patients, and deliver it more quickly, than ever before. The question isn’t whether technology can replace a hug or a reassuring hand, but how doctors can use it to enhance the patient experience.
The role of the physician is evolving and technology is increasing our ability to achieve more successful outcomes for our patients and for the entire health care system. Being a healer can go beyond caring for individual patients to managing populations of patients, in new ways and settings. Beyond the role of healer, the physician role now includes the roles of leader and partner.
We’re all human. And, as leaders, doctors must embrace what technology has to offer, and support teams of professionals to work together to alleviate suffering and achieve positive outcomes for patients and staff alike. Sharing the responsibility of patient care means collaborating with other caregivers, health plans, and policymakers to create systems for patient-centered care to ensure that safe, equitable, accessible and affordable health care for all is a reality, not just an aspiration.