• Patrick McAndrew

A Post for My Healthcare Folks

As I mentioned in my last post, I am currently reading Nicholas Carr’s The Glass Cage: How Computers Are Changing Us Man, does this guy make some strong points about how, well, computers are changing us.

Carr goes into a lot of detail with regards to how the rise of automation has led human beings to become less skilled.  He quotes, “When we automate cognitive tasks like problem solving, we hamper the mind’s ability to translate information into knowledge and knowledge into know-how.”  We are no longer practicing skills like we use to because computers are replacing those skills at lightning speed.

In one section of the book, he dives into the work of physicians and primary-care doctors.  Carr states:

“As physicians come to rely on computers to aid them in more facets of their everyday work, the technology is influencing the way they learn, the way they make decisions, and even their bedside manner.”

He continues:

“The reading of dictated and handwritten notes from specialists has long provided an important educational benefit from primary-care doctors, deepening their understanding not only of individual patients but of everything including disease treatments and diagnostic testing.”

There seems to be less subtlety and originality within the profession.  In addition, the computer is constantly competing with the patient for the physician’s attention.  Carr comments how during the Industrial Revolution, “skilled craftwork became unskilled factor labor.”  The degradation of skills is an unavoidable by-product of efficient computer systems.  George Dyson, a technology historian, said, “What if the cost of machines that think is people who don’t?”

This certainly gives us a lot to chew on.  Though I know little about the healthcare and medical field (maybe I can act like a doctor, but I am no real doctor), I am close with a good amount of people who are within that world.  I will often hear similar echoes that doctors do not know what they’re doing.  Many who work more directly with patients, be it nurses or one of the other many people who work with patients, will often know more about the patient and his or her specific needs.

Obviously, this is a generalization, for if it weren’t for wonderful doctors a great many of us would be dead.  I see myself as an objective observer of the medical world, as I know absolutely nothing about it, but I find it interesting that I hear this opinion about doctors by many people in the industry.  I liken it to the many technical theater people I talk to who don’t have the highest opinion of actors.  This makes me believe that it may be more of an ego thing than a technology thing.  The doctor is the doctor, so it’s their way or the highway.

But if many doctors have this sort of opinion along with an unquestioned faith in technology, it’s a recipe for disaster.  I believe that Carr is arguing that if doctors rely too much on what the computers are telling them instead of recalling to their own studies and experience, that could mean the difference between life and death.  But, the issue is complicated.

Technology has brought a whole new world of opportunities to the medical world that could not have been fathomed one hundred of even fifty years ago.  With that said, it’s important to not get lost in the hype.  If we sacrifice our hard work, our expertise, and our knowledge for laziness because a computer can do the job better, then we are not heading in the best direction.

What are your thoughts?  I would love to hear from you healthcare people and your thoughts on technology in the medical world.  How does it influence the behavior between doctors and patients?  Comment below!


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