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Digital health care doesn’t have to mean hands-off health care

Updated: Oct 5, 2023

With nearly 20,000 FDA-approved medicines currently on the market, and close to a quarter of Americans taking 3 or more prescription drugs at any given time, the potential for dangerous drug interactions has grown exponentially. The human brain could never keep track of the enormous number of possible combinations.

Now, an artificial intelligence algorithm can process 125 billion potential drug interactions in the body, and consumers have direct access to interaction databases.

To be sure, technology has capabilities that have revolutionized health care for the better, but careful attention to implementation is critical.

Kaiser Health News and Fortune’s cooperative article ‘Death by 1000 Clicks: Where Electronic Health Records Went Wrong’ highlighted vividly the frustration for providers and danger to patients when technology displaces human interaction.

From a well-meaning Federal policy that had the effect of rushing disparate systems to market, to the difficulty patients can have accessing their records, 'Death by 1000 Clicks' covers a lot of ground.

What stood out to us is at the heart of health literacy: the notion that patients and healthcare providers are people, first and foremost. That may sound banal, but when we read about the cognitive load that is placed on physicians as they switch from patient interaction to data entry in "extremely complicated" software systems, the stress this causes, and the ways it robs time away from real interaction, it made our partnerships with the healthcare community using strategies like teach-back trainings feel that much more urgent.

“If you go into medicine because you care about interacting, and then you’re just a tool, it’s dehumanizing,” said one interviewee in the article.

Of course, the story of tech in health care is complex, and unintended effects aren’t always negative. Just this week, Stat featured reporting on how the anonymity of apps can enable patients to share things–such as suicidal ideation–that they might not in other settings, opening a door to possible life-saving interventions.

And that’s where people come in. The challenge, as our CEO commented on St. Louis Public Radio this week, is untangling the areas where computers excel and can actually free up time for real interaction.

“Most people that I talk to don’t want their healthcare to be more efficient in a way that replaces our doctor or nurse, replaces those casual conversations, or replaces that human-ness in knowing,” she said.


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