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Healthcare Tech: Helping or Hurting?

Nate Canada • Feb 22, 2021

You’re sitting nervously in the cold, antiseptic-smelling room waiting for the doctor to show up. They finally rush in, only to spend the majority of their time staring at a screen. Their fingers fly, inputting as much data as they can, spending only a few minutes making eye contact and actually examining you. Then they rush off in a flurry of scrubs and screens.

All too many of us can relate to this experience.

It’s easy to blame the doctor for being so harried and impersonal. What a terrible bedside manner, we might mutter. But what if there’s more to it?

42% of physicians struggle with burnout. Pandemic-related stressors, overworking, and lack of respect and autonomy are just a few factors doctors cite as causes of weariness and overwhelm. But surprisingly, some of the very tools created to ease healthcare burdens are also seriously contributing to the problem.

As you know, around here we are tech fanatics. Building agile and creative tools to help businesses solve problems and capture opportunities gets us all kinds of giddy. But we know that sometimes tech gets in the way and actually makes things worse.

When new tools are developed without the proper input, foresight, and strategy, it’s a recipe for disaster. And we’re watching this play out in the healthcare space in a big way right now.

Physicians report “too many bureaucratic tasks” and “increased computerization of practice” as some of the leading causes for burnout. And today’s surge in telemedicine and our constant digital connection has blurred the line between work and home more than ever.

Truth be told, most doctors just want to treat patients. They want to help and heal. And they want to have a life outside of work. But ever-changing data capture requirements, shifts in telemedicine, and other tech changes seem to take them further and further away from the heart of why they become physicians in the first place.

The result? Doctors are exhausted, frustrated, discouraged, and even experiencing symptoms of despair, depression, and PTSD. The pandemic has shown us more than ever how much we desperately need our frontline health heroes. So it’s time we started paying attention to what they need from us.

Healthcare tech tools are often created with one population primarily in mind: the patient. While patient experience obviously matters, the cost of minimizing or ignoring altogether a tool’s impact on the physician is great. Tech that isn’t doctor-friendly often creates more work, more frustration, and more burden than anything else.

Business author and speaker Tom Peters shares this, “Put your customers first and your people before anyone else. If your employees are happy and you treat them right, it will naturally result in them treating your customers right. This is why your customers can never be happier than your employees.”

In the same way, happy doctors equals happy patients. We can’t expect patient care to improve after handing over tech that makes life miserable for physicians. They don’t need one more thing in their already hectic lives. Clunky, disruptive tech just adds to the heavy loads they already carry.

Our client and friends at Uppstroms get this issue more than most. Founded by a physician, this startup is creating a machine-learning app that proactively identifies patient need. And they’re going about it the right way—looking at how the tech will reduce physician workload and not add to it; examining ways to integrate the tool into natural workflows to minimize disruption.

When it comes to developing new healthcare tech, we have to start listening to physicians and involving them heavily in the process. We owe it to them now more than ever.