Does Technology Have the Ability to Restore Humanity to Healthcare?


The healthcare system has seen many positive changes over the years with technology being a major factor.  However, frustrations over EHR and burnout increasing among physicians has one clinician saying that it’s time to change how IT is created, developed and sent forward to give it more of a human touch.  While this may be true, can technology restore humanity to healthcare?


Healthcare Professionals Relationship with Technology is Uncertain

There is a growing concern that humanity within the healthcare system seems to be slipping away not just with how medical professionals may be dealing with their patients, but also because the technology being used is lacking.  Recently, an article in Healthcare IT News reported on this and what can be done according to Dr. Chris Derienzo, who is the chief quality officer at Ashville, North Carolina-based Mission Health System.

Dr. Derienzo said that, “at its core, technology would seem to be the antithesis of humanity.  It doesn’t feel, it doesn’t think, and it can’t see the humanity of the person in front of it.”  If you ask physicians their feelings regarding electronic health records, or if you read the recent New Yorker feature by Atul Gawande titled, “Why Doctors Hate Their Computers,” it becomes apparent that numerous professionals’ relationship with tech is, at best, ambivalent.

Also, Derienzo pointed out that, “it’s tempting to say there’s no way we can build or leverage technology in order to restore some humanity to the practice of medicine.  But I think that’s fundamentally a wrong assumption.”  Next year at the HIMSS19 in Orlando, Derienzo will explain why during one of the new TED Talk-style SPARK Sessions titled, “Humanity and Technology in Medicine: Antithetic or Symbiotic?” 


Bringing Back Joy to Healthcare

The doctor feels that the reason why tech appears to pull us away from others, instead of bringing us together, comes down to “how we’ve designed it and what we’ve designed.”  Yet, if we rethink both of them, there can be a re-positioning of IT where instead of detracting, it can enhance the experience from the clinician to the patient.  Doctor Derienzo plans on using real-life case studies and funny personal anecdotes to demonstrate how technology can restore joy to healthcare when properly deployed. This would assist burnt-out physicians to engage better in person-to-person situations, utilize their skills in solving complex situations, and enable them to practice at the top of their license.

Derienzo feels that, “if we focus on the right types of technology, and we build it right, then we can actually use it to empower people to do more of the things that only people can do in healthcare.”  How technology is used for and how it is designed plays a huge roll in how much it is liked by its end-users.  When considering how technology intentionally designed to connect to others, such as with telemedicine, “We see much more positive reaction to it.”

However, EHR is only one challenge, according to Derienzo.  “Our monitors are another. How we use algorithms is another very important one.”  He predicts that “our electronic documentation will evolve drastically over the next few years as we move away from this built environment and toward a world where human factors matter a whole lot more.”

The one technology that he feels would be the most productive in returning humanity to healthcare is artificial intelligence, although many feel nervous that it has the potential to displace and disrupt.  Derienzo said that, “AI stands positioned to be one of the core technological advances that allows us to return humanity to healthcare.”

One example, he explains, is that, “we’ve built a machine learning model at Mission Health and we’ve now gotten it fully up and running. Its purpose is to help risk-stratify patient who are case managers need to focus on. To serve them, not only by a ranked-ordered list but a concept as to why our model thinks they may be at a high risk of being readmitted.”

The doctor says that the application’s purpose “is to pull out things that people don’t have to be doing so now my care manager team can spend less time wondering who to focus on and more time actually focusing on people.”  Pointing out that the same goes with radiology, he said, “I don’t think that reading a thousand normal chest X-rays brings radiologist a ton of joy. But doing the complex work – is it this, is it that? – is what they enjoy. How do we bring the expertise and brains of these terrific musculoskeletal and neuroradiologists to the things we need them to be doing? That is how something like AI can actually empower humans.”


Finally, Derienzo maintains how practicing medicine is an ancient art and has long depended on the power of humans interacting.  “At one point that was all we had – other than leeches and bloodletting, all we had was the ability to interact with our patients one on one and be human with them.”

Furthermore, “we’ve vastly improved our ability to care since then, but in some ways, we’ve lost an appreciate for that aspect of a clinician patient relationship,” he explained. “My fervent hope is that once we get this right, we’ll actually be returning, somewhat, to a place where it’s that person to person relationship that’s the most valuable part of our day.”

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