The tech world has revolutionized nearly everything we do—from the way we work, shop and travel to the way we consume news and information. Yet transforming the way we access healthcare—one of the most essential services in our lives—continues to elude the tech giants.
Try as they might to disrupt the nearly $4 trillion healthcare sector, their big ideas continue to fall by the wayside. The dismantling of Google Health and the defunct Haven Health, founded in part by Amazon, are just the latest casualties. So why does big tech keep falling short when it comes to healthcare? I believe it's because they're missing the most important ingredient: the human connection.
Transformation is long overdue in healthcare, which is one of the last bastions to fully embrace the digital age. New technological solutions are certainly needed to improve the way care is delivered and to drive affordability, access and quality. But at the end of the day, healthcare comes down to people serving other people especially in times of greatest need. Technology can never replace that. Rather than trying to disintermediate traditional care providers, the tech world should seek collaboration. The focus should be on enabling, not replacing, the sacred encounters between patients and providers that are so essential to healing.
As a physician of 42 years and the CEO of one of the largest health systems in the country, I am inspired every day by the compassion and dedication of people who work in healthcare. I've experienced it firsthand professionally. But I've also felt it on a deeply personal level. Like many Americans, members of my family have been in the hospital for serious medical issues more times than I care to count.
Recently, my wife got the dreaded diagnosis: "You have cancer." When we heard those words, we didn't turn to a bot to crank out an algorithm-designed care plan for answers. We turned to healthcare professionals who provide world-class care with authentic compassion. From the phlebotomists to the medical assistants, from the nurses to the physicians, the exquisite orchestration that's required when you're dealing with a complex diagnosis is incredible. With each appointment, we've felt profound gratitude for every member of our healthcare team. Technology can and should facilitate the process and ease the path for patients and caregivers. But it can never replace the teamwork that uniquely exists in clinics, hospitals and health systems across the country.
I hope the pandemic has given tech companies a greater appreciation for the essential role that healthcare workers play in our communities. Over the last 21 months, we've seen caregivers step up time and time again to respond to surging numbers of patients with COVID-19. They've also responded to a string of natural disasters, from the devastation of Hurricane Ida on the Gulf Coast and East Coast, to deadly wildfires in California, to record-breaking heat waves across the country. Many tech companies and other new entrants have bold ambitions to seize the low-hanging fruit or more profitable aspects of healthcare. Instead, they could better serve the greater good by partnering with hospitals and health systems to create stronger safety nets in times of crisis, such as natural disasters and public health emergencies.
The pandemic has taken a tremendous toll on the healthcare workforce. According to Mental Health America, 93% of health care workers reported higher levels of stress, 86% reported anxiety, and 76% reported exhaustion and burnout. One valuable way the tech world could help is by focusing on tools and technology that make it easier for healthcare workers to do their jobs. For example, improving electronic health records to make them intuitive and easy to use could reduce the amount of time clinicians currently spend documenting. Additionally, better data insights could support real-time clinical decision-making. By using technology to improve the day-to-day work of clinicians, we can help them reclaim time in their day and rediscover the joy of clinical practice.
Many tech companies have had an air of hubris when it comes to healthcare, assuming they can do it better than the traditional care providers. I'll be the first to admit that clinicians aren't the experts in technology. By the same token, software engineers aren't experts in healthcare. But when you bring clinicians and technologists together, that's where the magic happens.
With the plug getting pulled on the likes of Google Health and Haven, it suggests that big tech is retrenching and rethinking its healthcare strategy. In planning their next move, I encourage tech companies to get to know care providers better and understand their pain points. The real solutions will be found by partnering with health systems, not competing with them. The goal should be using technology to reduce distractions and simplify and support the work of caregivers. That way the most sacred aspect of healing–the human connection–can continue to shine.