In today’s world, technology plays a major role in almost every economic and social aspect of society as well as in our daily life. A life without it has become unimaginable. Also, the health sector has become highly dependent on it, in terms of medical devices and equipment for diagnosis and therapy, process organisation and data management, for the development of pharmaceuticals etc.
While the people working in the medical sector are thrilled by these developments and face the future optimistically, patients on the other hand increasingly voice fear and unease concerning the mechanisation and automation of medicine. Not seldomly patients now criticise a certain “distance” and “coolness” from sides of the doctor, as well as rushed consultations in which the doctors “hide” behind their computer screens.
But is technology really the antithesis of humanity? Does it inevitably distance us from our patients?
Over centuries it has been the aim of the health sector to maintain, foster and when needed restore health. These are still the core components of health care, however in the past years we have faced a series of new challenges including demographic changes (shift to aging populations with all the associated health implications and diseases), global climate change and considerable environmental challenges, changing lifestyles etc.
Patient numbers are rising as well as multimorbidity. At the same time, we are observing trends of juridification, economization and commercialisation. Precisely for this reason we can be thankful for the technological advances of the past hundred years that have enhanced the medical sector on all levels. Diagnosis, therapy and follow up have all become more efficient, more reliable and in many aspects safer. No one of us would renounce these benefits.
However, in a time of technological development and increasing methods to both detect, treat and sometimes even heal different diseases, it is crucial for doctors to not lose sight of the humanitarian and social aspects of their vocation. The effects and power of a simple conversation, eye contact and small courtesies should not be underrated. It is equally important to understand that we still cannot fully rely on algorithms – at the end of the day every patient is an individual with a unique case and family history as well as different lifestyles and physical and mental constitutions. These have to be considered and weighed up by the attending physician when it comes to choosing different treatment options – on the simplest level surgical or conservative treatment.
Choosing technology in the medical sector does not necessarily mean the complete loss of its social and human components. We should rather rethink and redesign the used technology and efficiently integrate it into our clinical routine – the aim being the best possible care for the patient. We should use technology to reach more patients, make clinical workflow more efficient, offer the best diagnosis and treatment. Technological developments and empathy can go hand in hand neatly.