Medicine's 'soft side' often forgotten in race to build latest technology

The disconnect between providers who are too tethered to their computers and their patients takes centers stage in a commentary published this week in The Atlantic by David Shaywitz, M.D. co-founder of the Boston-based Center for Assessment Technology and Continuous Health. Shaywitz argues that while many physicians are longing for technology that enables both faster processes and a human connection, engineers and developers are apt to let "the soft side of medicine" fall by the wayside in the name of efficiency.

"Indeed, many technologists view doctors themselves as an outdated profession--like carriage drivers, or librarians," Shaywitz writes. "In Silicon Valley, there seems to be a palpable [though certainly not universal] disdain for physicians, who seem to be regarded as healthcare's fundamental problem rather than potentially part of an emerging solution."

In support of his argument, Shaywitz cites a recent Wall Street Journal article in which Abraham Verghese, a professor at Stanford University's School of Medicine, says that electronic medical records, while great tools for improving health, aren't necessarily built with compassion in mind.

"The electronic medical record is a wonderful thing … but the downside is that we're spending too much time on the [EMR] and not enough at the bedside," Verghese tells the Journal.

Some medical schools already are tailoring their curriculums to account for how technology can depersonalize medical encounters. Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., for instance, uses actors to portray patients who provide feedback on how well or poorly a medical student integrates technology into their workflow.

Guidelines created by officials at Stanford University are written to ensure that physicians stay focused on their patients, and include basic instructions like "face your patient" and "excuse yourself to check the screen."

To learn more:
- read this post in The Atlantic
- here's the Wall Street Journal piece

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