Practice Management

Health care, technology, and the future


Hospitalist insight needed

What is the role of hospitalist leaders in this shifting equation? Hospitalists already can claim significant credit for introducing major changes in the landscape of hospital care in this country, with all the concomitant improvements in the efficiencies and quality of more integrated service delivery. Can you also guide the system in strategically selecting where and how technology can best be applied to automate and reconfigure service delivery?

The most important questions are: What is it that humans in health care uniquely do that cannot otherwise be accomplished? Are we able to hold onto the humane sides of health care, even as we seek to introduce cost-saving efficiencies?

Top of mind come the most personal sides of health service delivery: touch, empathy, understanding, and care itself. Next come human analysis, understanding, and translation. And beyond that, leadership, direction, and the vision to craft a health care system that meets our societal expectations – not just for the wealthy who cannot afford it – but for everyone.

It would be easy to dismiss this conversation. Society never decided whether those bank tellers, travel agents, or journalists were critical to our functioning. Along these same lines, you and your patients are more than mere algorithms.

As I often share in my leadership seminars, one key function of leaders is to identify and ask the right questions and to be at the decision-making table. What are those questions?

As a hospitalist leader, which part of your work and your activities could be eased by automation? Where might technology ease pressures and enhance your interactions with patients? How do we improve the efficiencies and effectiveness of health service delivery while we preserve the very human qualities that are fundamental to its values? No patient wants to speak to a physician who stares at a computer screen without eye contact, reassurance, or genuine interest. We can do better than that.

Business stakeholders in the system – and clearly, they are positioning and are powerful – will hold great sway on the contours of our future health care system. They could see humans – with all their costs, imperfections, and distractions – as replaceable.

Know that as you lead and pose your questions, there are people interested in listening. Certainly, the tech industry is looking for opportunities to generate broad market appeal. Similarly, health system decision makers looking to enhance how the system functions likewise seek guidance on what could – and could not – work. And who knows: Those decision makers could very well be you.

This is a conversation the country deserves. There is nothing more intimate, more personally important, and more professionally satisfying than the genuine person-to-person quality of what we do in health care. What we arrive at in the end should be achieved by intent, not by accident.

Dr. Marcus is coauthor of “Renegotiating Health Care: Resolving Conflict to Build Collaboration,” 2nd ed. (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 2011) and is director of the program for health care negotiation and conflict resolution, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston. Dr. Marcus teaches regularly in the SHM Leadership Academy. He can be reached at [email protected].


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