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Will Human Healthcare Professionals Become Obsolete?

Angela Tenuta

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A colleague recently returned from TEDMED with a funny story. He said a well-respected physician gave a presentation on how people still need doctors. The physician made the point that the Internet and Uber-fication of healthcare cannot overtake the value of the human health professional.

The funny part was hearing a big-time doctor feeling the need to make that case.

Tech-Only Healthcare
Today, we 3-D print human body parts. We’ve developed algorithms that can make more logical decisions than people can. We have robots that can cut out cancerous cells. And we’ve created AI that can parse human emotions.

Yet would you be satisfied with technology-only medical care? Probably not.

What it comes down to is humans need humans.

But surgeon Robert Khoo predicted recently on KevinMD that “ … within 20 to 30 years the computer will replace the venerable physician.” He said, “We won’t miss the warmth of a patient-physician relationship since that will have been bled from our experience and our memory. … Laying of the hands will be replaced by computerized probing and touch-sensitive feelers, not by doctors, but by providers. I can hardly wait.”

(His sarcasm is palpable.)

Humans Need Humans
Another contributor, medical student Saurabh Sinha, took a more positive spin on the subject in “Doctors: All of you have a superpower.”

“It’s what coalesces at the intersection of your medical knowledge and your humanity: a profound sense of empathy. … Even in a fast-paced, intensive care setting, these conversations are crucial for proper patient care.”

Sinha wrote, “ … there is no care given that does not consider the depths of the person who is being treated.”

Well, all care should consider the person being treated. Unfortunately, care does sometimes move ahead without it. We’re often so focused on efficiency that we fixate on technology as the solution. However, we’re beginning to realize the value of the more complex — and more human — elements of care.  

A recent article in MM&M asked, “What if hospital meant hospitality?” And another recent article in Fortune, adapting Geoff Colvin’s book Humans Are Underrated: Proving Your Value in the Age of Brilliant Technology, pointed out that “Empathy is the critical 21st-century skill.”

“We are social beings, hardwired … to equate personal relationships with survival. … We want to hear our diagnosis from a doctor, even if a computer supplied it, because we want to talk to the doctor about it — perhaps just to talk and know we’re being heard by a human being.

“ … the meaning of great performance has changed. It used to be that you had to be good at being machine-like. Now, increasingly, you have to be good at being a person. Great performance requires us to be intensely human beings.”

Keeping It Real
This concept of machines evolving to do a human’s work is far from being new. What is new is seeing this reality come to life in our everyday lives — and especially in the care of something as personal as our health.

Technology is making complex tasks much easier. What will always be hard to do right is the personal element.

Whether it’s in person or through an app, on a website or over the phone, can we — both the healthcare industry as a whole and the pharma industry specifically — figure out how to be more hospitable? Can we find a way to make patients — and HCPs — feel like they’re being understood by a person, not an algorithm?

How can we keep the humanity in our work?

 

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