Two parallel worlds: Healthcare IT and frontline clinical medicine

The promise that information technology holds for healthcare is, quite literally, amazing. So far, it has enabled us to get rid of paper charts (not to mention the age old problem of illegible doctors’ handwriting), negated the need to trawl through mountains of files to find old clinical data, and introduced much-needed safety improvements such as medication alerts. But anyone practicing at the frontlines of medicine over the last few years will also be very familiar with the negatives: reduced face time with patients, lost productivity, and daily clinician frustrations with the IT solutions that have been put before us.

As someone who has personally witnessed the information technology roll-out in several different hospitals up and down the east coast, I’ve also keenly been observing the relationship between the world of healthcare IT and clinical medicine.

A recent online article about the problems with information technology, citing legitimate concerns from a clinical standpoint, attracted a comment from an IT professional that particularly caught my attention. The comment stated that he had worked in hospitals during the roll-out process, and couldn’t understand why physicians were not embracing IT. He then went on to lament how physicians shouldn’t “resist change” and must learn to work accordingly.

This comment alone summed up the gulf that exists between the two worlds—one that at times seems almost unbridgeable.

The most palpable problem from the clinical world is that whether we are talking about IT programmers, designers, entrepreneurs or simply administrators, these professionals consistently fail to recognize that the work of a physician is primarily one that involves people and relationships. To many of them, the more time a physician spends at a computer terminal and the more IT tasks that can be given to them, the better. After all, in their world, it’s all about computers and technology right?

So here’s 3 things for all IT folk to remember, whatever their pay grade:

1. Most physicians, unlike many other professions, went into medicine to deal with human beings. Information technology, while very much the future, should be a minimal part of what a physician does on a daily basis (at least as minimal as possible when it involves desk work)

2. Healthcare is an intensely personal and human arena. It is about relationships and very raw emotions of illness and sickness.  Remember that. What you do is a vital adjunct, but is far (and not even close) to being everything that healthcare is about. “Data collection”, “cloud solutions”, and  “mobile apps” are not at the core of good clinical medicine

3. The majority of patients right now, and for the foreseeable future, are elderly and in reality don’t care too much about computers and technology at the frontlines of healthcare. They want good thorough bedside medicine, a compassionate and caring ear, and to get better as soon as possible

Our two worlds need to exist together. Most physicians know that technology represents the future and want to help make IT better. Perhaps consider shadowing a physician to better understand what frontline medicine is really all about? Because tomorrow it could be your mum, dad or other loved one that requires a good and competent doctor.

The IT solutions of the future need to be super-efficient, seamless and mobile. They need to be “seen and not heard” and ultimately, help take doctors and nurses back to where they belong: with their patients. Only when the world of technology reconciles itself to the world of clinical medicine, can we truly fulfill the immense promise of healthcare IT.

Suneel Dhand is a physician, author, speaker and healthcare consultant. He has experience in a number of different healthcare environments, having worked up and down the East coast and also internationally. His specialty areas include hospital QI, optimizing healthcare IT, and improving the patient experience. He is the author of 3 books, including most recently “The Ultimate Patient Advocate in Your Pocket”, designed to help hospitalized patients. He is also the founder of HealthITImprove, an organization dedicated to improving and optimizing information technology at the frontlines of healthcare.

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  1. December 30, 2015
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