Why digital tools won’t replace healthcare workers

Often in discussions about healthcare and technology eventually the conversation leads to robots replacing humans. There are a number of funny clips that “innovation experts” like to play of robots moving around hospitals seeing patients or operating. Many healthcare providers may wonder if their job is going to be at stake. In some cases yes, there may be some replacement of administrative staff that have to transcript notes or copy data. Some machines may make packaging of products easier as well. Overall though the answer is no. Computers are not replacing humans in healthcare.

Human-computer Cooperation

Why not? Well, a talk by Shyam Sankar explains why humans and computers have different strengths. While computers can run algorithms, process large sets of data, provide continual processing, etc that a person can’t; Humans have different strengths computers cannot match in realms of creativity, flexibility, etc.

They key is leveraging the strengths of both. This is what Sankar calls Human-computer cooperation. That cooperation he says can be used to unlock incredible challenges and leads to the best outcomes. Here is the full talk so you can hear his story:

The most important part I think we need to learn in healthcare is to focus on the cooperation aspect. What is the base process and problems we are trying to fix, solve, improve or change? What are our humans (providers, patients, families, care givers, etc.) good at? What digital tools could we give them to get better outcomes, make the human more productive, or improve the process?

Instead of simply substituting analogue process for digital process we need to focus how do we improve the overall process by effectively sharing tasks. For example, electronic documentation transitions don’t need to just mirror the paper version. The change over should revisit how assessments are actually done by the clinician and focus on reducing the work to input data, create ways to analyze the data, and focus on how that information and data can be used.

In the end the best implementation of technology will not be a substitution of humans for computers. Human-computer cooperation needs to frame the way we think about implementing IT projects in healthcare.

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