As most innovations, technology in medicine can be both a blessing and a curse. In medical school, devices like smartphones and ipads can enhance the medical school experience while also serving as a distraction from learning. In a hospital, technology can offer efficiency and more treatment options, while also impersonalizing the doctor-patient relationship.
As quoted in Modern Health, “technology is critical in the evolution of health care, but using it effectively is a balancing act between preserving the doctor-patient relationship and ensuring patients receive cost-effective and convenient care.”
So how can we benefit from technology in medicine without being mastered by it? Simply being aware of how it affects us for better or worse is a good place to start.
With the rise of the information age and popularity of personal devices, learning is now more accessible than ever before. Teachers write on digital smartboards during lectures, students take notes on digital tablets, and practice tests are available on the go via smartphones. While the benefits of technology cannot be denied, there are also serious learning implications to be aware of.
For example, recent studies show that those who multitask or are distracted by multi-taskers performed worse on exams. Cell phones in particular seem to be a big hindrance to learning in class—even for those using them for note-taking. In fact, it was revealed that students on their phones caught 62% less of the information given in class than their peers using pen and paper.
Training in telemedicine
One of the biggest technological changes in health care delivery is telemedicine. Nearly all schools are beginning to train their students in this practice, and well over 64% of patients are open to the idea of meeting with a doctor via video. In fact, a vast majority of patients are expressing a preference for a more convenient, remote option of health care. It is important for every medical student and physician to be aware of this trend and put it into practice.
On one hand, telemedicine offers benefits like more direct and immediate access, lower health care costs, and wider range of physicians to choose from. On the other hand, more technical training and equipment are needed, and there is less continuity of care—as well as tricky payment policies to sort out on both ends.
Though limitations still exist, the ultimate goal of telemedicine is to enhance patients’ health care needs.
Rise of digital empathy
So what can be done to find a balance? At the core of technological advancement is the acknowledgement that optimal care involves treating the entire person—not just the physical ailment. So the only way the benefits of technology in medicine will outweigh the limitations is if it serves to uphold a central quality of the physician—empathy.
This is a hard enough skill to master on its own, and that challenge can be exacerbated when there is a piece of machinery in the mix. Thus, a recent phenomenon called “digital empathy” is beginning to grow in popularity both in medical school curricula and on the job. While developing emphatic skills is a good place to start, digital communication requires extra consideration and training since non-verbals such as eye contact and body language are often lost on these devices.
There is still much to be learned on how to make technology in medicine enhance our humanity rather than restrict it, but the most encouraging thing is the desire to improve ourselves and our care of others any way we can.