AMA's Robert Wah: Technology use in healthcare a balancing act

In his first speech as president of the American Medical Association, Robert Wah this week spoke about the organization boldly going where it hasn't gone before.

Referencing "Star Trek" character Leonard McCoy, aka Bones, Wah emphasized the importance of technology in healthcare--and the balance between harnessing that new information and remaining compassionate and connected to patients.

"Bones bridged the gaps among the extremes of logic and instinct, rules and regulations, rational thought versus impulsive action, scientific knowledge and human compassion," he said.

Wah made clear that he will bring his health IT experience with him to his position; before being named as president to the AMA he served as the first deputy coordinator for the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT.

Wah also cited his experience with health IT in the Navy and making the transition from clinical medicine to health IT. He eventually was chosen to manage the health IT program for the U.S. military.

However, while Wah praised the importance of technology in healthcare, he also cautioned against using "high-tech for tech's sake."

"The real innovation is in the ways it improves the care--and the lives--of our patients," Wah said.

His position on that is already being made clear. Just this week, the AMA adopted a new telemedicine policy that focuses on patient safety and quality of care. The policy calls for a "patient-physician relationship" through an in-person consultation for services that otherwise would require face-to-face examinations before continuing treatment using telemedicine.

Regarding the policy, Wah said in a statement that "whether a patient is seeing his or her physician in person or via telemedicine, the same standards of care must be maintained."

Wah also addressed in his speech the use of technology and digital records to analyze information, study it and share it in innovative ways in order to "build on tradition, not be bound by convention."

In closing, Wah said that the AMA "can boldly go where no physician has gone before."

"Together, we can draw strength from our bonds. Escape the confines of convention. Expand our horizons. And build a new tradition."

To learn more:
- read the transcript of the speech