Improving humanism in medicine while balancing technological advances

Improving humanism in medicine while balancing technological advances

By Anita Gupta, Chitra Parikh, and Supriya Makam

Time is a diminishing commodity in medicine. With the rise of electronic medical records and forms of telemedicine, the physician-patient relationship has become relatively impersonal, resulting in poor communication.1 We are in the era of “machine medicine,” with doctors having to look through muddled and convoluted pits of medical data for each patient chart.2 Physicians no longer have the time to sit down with patients and discuss their true medical needs.

Yet, there is no one size fits all method that can be applied to all patients, or a checklist to determine whether these patients can receive painkillers or not. Studies have shown that in hospitals, poor communication is one of the major causes of preventable death3. Moving forward, a major challenge to both the provider and the patient will be in solving this poor communication problem. This hurdle leads to the inevitable question: what can be done to ensure that patients are communicating their needs sufficiently?

This impediment may, in fact, be solved by using a few simple approaches and by utilizing technology in a favorable method so both the provider and the patient can benefit. Remaining calm and empathetic during a patient’s visit can ensure a patient’s trust in a physician. Moreover, increased time in a patient visit allows for improved patient-centered conversations, shared decision-making, and more importantly, effective communication.4 A multi-faceted approach with staff in a physician’s office can also strengthen the provider-patient relationship. The increased use of nurses, social workers, psychologists, physical therapists, and occupational therapists, alongside various forms of therapy, can help maintain a good connection between medical staff and the patient, ensuring that all needs of the patient are addressed in a compassionate and empathetic manner.

Furthermore, studies show that patients may feel more comfortable communicating their needs if there is a level of increased trust and transparency between the patient and physician.5 This transparency can best be characterized as a better understanding of informed patient choice. Best practices for patient-physician communication, at their root, must both address and acknowledge that patients have varying levels of comfort with medical information. At the same time, providers must balance this comfort with the fact that patient choice mandates “full, honest, open communication.”6

Properly designed technology that balances these needs can be done, and it is the ideal platform to address this constant balance, since patients can have access to better channels of communication such as patient portals. These platforms, which tend to be relatively user-friendly, offer the ability for patients to utilize feedback loops for the healthcare team, as well as serve as a tangible location to communicate needs, questions, or concerns.

With time becoming increasingly scarce and valuable in the medical setting, it is important to consider how we can achieve compassionate clinical care given the emergence of technology. In doing so, we can use technology to supplement quality patient care; in that the patients can not only become informed, but also build connections through increased transparency with their healthcare providers. We must consider all design elements in the future of healthcare to ensure patient centered care remains patient centered for all patients.

Dr. Anita Gupta is a leading international authority in medicine and biotechnology. She is currently Senior Vice President at Heron Therapeutics (NASDAQ:HRTX) and is the editor of 50 Studies Every Anesthesiologist Should Know. She is an Executive Project Partner at the Keller Center of Innovation at Princeton University leading researchers and students on a design thinking initiative related to global health.

Chitra Parikh is a student at Princeton University focusing on the intersection of innovation, design thinking and healthcare in the global world.

Supriya Makam is a student at Columbia University studying the impact of neurosciences and how it impacts behavior, and technology in evolving healthcare environment.


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“You Can’t Understand Something You Hide: Transparency As A Path To Improve Patient Safety, " Health Affairs Blog, June 22, 2015.DOI: 10.1377/hblog20150622.048711.