Is Tech Blocking the Practice of Medicine?

A doctors hands are visble at a desk. In the desk are two computers, a mobile phone, as well as papers, a stethoscope, a cup of coffee and a thermometer.

writer icon Lily Olsson     ISB   |   Tech     🕐 28. Sep. 2018

It is called alarm fatigue. In places where alarms are common, people can become desensitised to the sound, effectively blocking it from their mind.

Advanced health monitoring systems are sensitive and can be triggered by the slightest change in the patient. If a patient falls asleep too quickly, the heart monitor may go off. If a pulse oxygen meter slips off a finger, an alarm may sound. Whether the beeping is routine or an emergency, the sounds are often similar.

In a tech-reliant society, people have attuned themselves to relying on machines for their needs. Meanwhile, many hospitals and healthcare institutions are poorly staffed and overworked. Unable to constantly check on all patients at all times, an alarm may be the first indicator for the staff that they are needed.

Alarm fatigue

With an onslaught of alarms, it is not surprising to find that alarm fatigue exists. The supposed life-saving alarms may be causing healthcare staff to turn a deaf ear to the needs of the patient.

The alarms are not only found on machines and medical equipment. Cell phones are used in medicine to update staff on labs, confer with colleagues, send updates on meetings and more.

When things go wrong

Tech can both interrupt and be interrupted. Any time the tech does not function properly, it can result in a roadblock in medicine.

Physicians use tech to monitor patients, schedule appointments, administer medication, even discharge patients. If one cog in the technological machine fails, it could bring the entire unit down. Tech failures are another cause of dissatisfaction among clinicians. In a recent study, 82% of clinicians agreed that tech interruptions led to burning out on the job.

Individual differences

Despite best efforts, computers are not human. They cannot think in areas of grey as humans can. Humans are vastly different from one another, and their treatments are subjective. What works for one patient might not work for another.

Computers do not yet have the capacity to understand this, and their black and white thinking can hinder physician efforts to practice medicine.

If a computer deems a dose of medicine too high, it will not allow it. If it notices a scheduling conflict, it will not allow it. While this can help in the reduction of errors, it cannot take into consideration the case by case standard that healthcare requires.

The Duality of EMR
EMR stands for Electronic Medical Records. Patients’ entire healthcare history can be stored, accessed, and updated online. Information is at the ready and instant, without the wait of calling departments and searching a filing cabinet. Because a patient’s entire medical history is stored on EMR, doctors must regularly update it with new information.

Between updating charts, ordering medicine, allocating tasks, and waiting for other people to input information on EMR, it can be very time-consuming. EMRs are also a leading contributor to physician burnout. Physicians spend nearly twice the amount of time on EMRs as they do seeing patients.

To satisfy the tech, physicians are seeing less of their patients. When factors such as cumbersome tech get in the way, burnout can occur. When doctors are burned out or unhappy, mistakes happen.

Whether it is a lack of training, poor program design, or simple human error, EMR contributes to mistakes made in the healthcare industry.

Worth the Wait?
With better imaging, better tests, advanced surgical techniques, remote access to health care, there is no doubt that technology has improved medical care.

While the relationship between tech and healthcare may not be a healthy one, it is a growing one. As medicine and technology advance, physician and computer may one day find a harmony that is better for everyone.

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