Ask clinicians what brings them professional joy and you'll invariably hear one answer: spending time with their patients. It doesn't matter if they're surgeons or nurses, male or female, old or young, every time we ask this question at Mission Health, the answer remains the same.
And the reason is obvious. Clinicians are called to healthcare because we are drawn to engage with the most viscerally human characteristic of our existence—the tension between life and death.
Yet 21st century healthcare pulls providers away from this core person-to-person interaction more than ever. Oft-cited data from the American Medical Association show doctors spend half as much time engaging face-to-face with patients as they do engaging face-to-screen with the electronic health record. Clinicians are increasingly required to perform tasks that, while contributing to the value proposition of field-driven records, are not what most would call "joy-enabling."
But could technology actually return some humanity to healthcare? I believe it can.
Technology may seem like the antithesis of humanity—it doesn't feel, doesn't connect, and too often pulls people away from human contact. Liz Boehm, a good friend from the Experience Innovation Network, reminds me that while analytics solutions are powerful, they all share one major weakness: "They can't see the humanity in the human in front of them."
No technology can ease the despair in meeting with parents whose child you've just diagnosed with cancer, or with parents-to-be whose baby is being born weeks too early to survive. These conversations require compassion, time and humanity. But better technology can help scale the time humans have to make such uniquely human connections.
At Mission Health, we are actively piloting our own machine-learning algorithm to better target care-management team interventions. Every morning our model combs through nearly a hundred variables on patients discharged the day before, then serves a prediction on each patient's likelihood of readmission before our care managers even wake up. It's not perfect, but it's already better than the LACE algorithm used by most hospitals nationwide. And both the actual model and how we use it improves each day. More importantly, the better we get at identifying who our care managers should help, the more time they can spend doing what brings them joy: helping patients.
One of the most valuable lessons I received as an intern was that the intern year is about learning just one skill—how to differentiate "sick" from "not sick." It's a skill that requires seeing thousands of patients one by one, watching them each take a different trajectory, and learning small variations that help predict which patients may take which course.
Once you learn to differentiate "sick" from "not sick," it's like wearing glasses for the first time. But even the best glasses won't bend the laws of physics to let you see all 68 critically ill babies in a neonatal intensive-care unit at once. This leaves even the best doctors a step behind "sickness." It doesn't have to be this way. The era of augmented intelligence has already produced algorithms trained on billions of data points from past patients' trajectories (just like clinicians are trained). Used in real-time, these models can predict impending doom by aggregating elements of patients' clinical digital exhaust, thus directing clinicians where and when to act before a decline becomes a disaster.
Even telemedicine supports humanity in healthcare. In the past, a rural ED physician had to leave the bedside of a scared stroke patient and his family to spend 20 minutes on the phone with a neurologist deciding what to do to the patient. Now we can bring the neurologist, the ED doctor and the family all together at the bedside for a Wi-Fi-enabled face-to-face evaluation and conversation about how the patient wants the team to approach his care.
This is what medicine is really about. When we strip away everything in healthcare that humans do not absolutely have to do, all that remains is the raw humanity ingrained in person-to-person interactions. Better technology can thus both enable and expand our humanity by facilitating more of the right kinds of human-to-human contacts—even if they wind up being through FaceTime.