I’ve been meaning to read the book Sapiens for a while now. Billed as a “brief history of mankind,” the book looks at 70,000 years of history and science to explore what makes us human.
Recently, though, a friend summarized the book's main conclusion and theme — and his summary stopped me in my tracks.
There are a lot of learning from the book, he said, but “Overall, the most important is that it is collaboration and stories that make humans different from animals — collaboration and stories.” Collaboration and stories -- two things that seem so optional, so subtle -- could these really be the things that make us unique, make us powerful, and make us tick?
The book’s author, Yuval Noah Harari, was interviewed by Smithsonian recently, and elaborated on each topic as follows…
On how humans use stories:
“The truly unique trait of Sapiens is our ability to create and believe fiction. All other animals use their communication system to describe reality. We use our communication system to create new realities.”
On how humans cooperate and collaborate:
“The Sapiens secret of success is large-scale flexible cooperation. This has made us masters of the world. But at the same time it has made us dependent for our very survival on vast networks of cooperation.”
These insights are important for medicine, as well. It’s so easy for all of our institutions, technology, and systems to strip away what is most human about us. It’s easy for our medical practice to become very literally “dehumanized and dehumanizing” in our pursuit of efficiency -- we literally cut out collaboration and stories in order to save time and money.
When we are forced to rush through visits, we miss the stories that make the patient who she is. When the only collaboration tool we have is uni-directional text messaging, our ability to collaborate and cooperate in complex ways is limited.
That’s why I believe that initiatives that re-embed medical care back into our personal contexts, that allow us to connect with each other in rich ways, are those that end up being most effective and most powerful. Ironically, sometimes these initiatives are almost laughably simple. For instance, Cleveland Clinic is creating a "groundbreaking initiative" affecting 50,000 providers -- which amounts to little more than a reminder to remember patients' stories and to have empathy. Certainly this is backed up by the Sapiens author, but not very surprising for most good healthcare providers. (Of course, trying to systematize something like empathy can backfire in unintended ways, but here I'm just highlighting the interesting nature of the initiative existing at all.)
It's certainly why iClickCare is intuitive to use, allows rich and complex sharing (pictures, long form narrative, and videos) in consultations, and supports multi-directional, complex collaboration.
In some ways, what's most groundbreaking in medicine is actually that which brings us back to our core as people -- and that's always been pretty simple.
Learn more about how hybrid store-and-forward allows for rich, simple collaboration: