9 digital healthcare execs discuss importance of interpersonal interactions between providers, patients

The leaders who run digital transformation and innovation programs at hospitals and health systems know how much potential technology has to improve care delivery, but they also have the prudence to understand which areas of healthcare don't need digital intervention.

When Becker's asked healthcare digital innovation leaders which health tools they think should stay analog, nearly all respondents' answers highlighted how critical it is for patients to feel empathy and humanity from the people who provide them care.

Here are nine of those leaders' answers:

Daniel Durand, MD, chief innovation officer at LifeBridge Health (Baltimore): The physician-patient relationship should stay analog to a certain extent, always. In some cases, you can establish that relationship and then it leads to a safe virtual relationship, but there is a tremendous therapeutic value that goes beyond just the data that someone has given you or what they look like through a video camera.

Nick Patel, MD, chief digital officer at Prisma Health (Columbia, S.C.): The bedside human touch and interaction will always be needed for building patient rapport and trust.

Omer Awan, chief data and digital officer at Atrium Health (Charlotte, N.C.): The personal interaction between caregiver and patient cannot be digitized, as it cannot mimic empathy and human touch. It can be facilitated and augmented but cannot be replaced.

Sara Vaezy, chief digital strategy and business development officer at Providence (Renton, Wash): The ability for a patient who needs continuity to connect with a provider who knows them and can care for them based on their unique needs.

Peter Fleischut, MD, senior vice president and chief transformation officer at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital (New York City): A nurse-patient interaction. I also truly believe there's a lot of value in the patient-physician relationship and that communication. I think technology should accelerate that and encourage that, but it shouldn't replace that. So, I don't ever want to see patients lack the ability to directly connect with a doctor and communicate with them. Now, do I think there are parts of the patient-physician relationship that could be made digital? Of course there are, for things like getting a refill on a prescription or scheduling a follow-up visit. But I think the relationship should never be replaced to be completely digital.

Muthu Krishnan, PhD, chief digital transformation officer at IKS Health (Burr Ridge, Ill.): The ability to see a physician in person — empathy and emotion are not yet the realm of computers!

Aaron Martin, executive vice president and chief digital officer at Providence (Renton, Wash.): The connection between the clinician — who is in the clinic room or at the bedside — and the patient needs to stay analog. We call this connection the sacred encounter; technology should improve this connection by removing distractions such as EMR documentation and paperwork to make the encounter as frictionless as possible.

John Brownstein, PhD, chief innovation officer at Boston Children's Hospital: The care team's relationship with the patient. 

Tom Andriola, vice chancellor of IT and data at UC Irvine (Calif.): Look, there's a lot of things that I hope maintain their analog modes, like doctors conversing with their patients to understand history and state of mind. We're a long way off for AI to be able to pick up subtleties of nonverbal cues and exhibit empathy — both mastering the technology and accepting it as an equivalent to the standard interaction. The key for me is in analog being supported by technology, what I refer to as "augmented intelligence" for AI.

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