We've all been blindsided by technology taking the place of a human, when and where it shouldn't.
It's the labyrinthine customer service switchboard when we just want to ask a simple question of a real person. It's the app that sends us in circles when we really just want to pay a bill.
But a recent technology screw-up touched a serious nerve for one family -- and even called into question whether and how telemedicine should be used.
Mr. Ernest Quintana was in the hospital for the third time in 15 days, as the New York Times recently recounted. His lung cancer was beginning to get the best of him and he was struggling. His family remained hopeful, though, and they were all with him throughout the hospital stay.
One afternoon, though, Mr. Quintana was surprised to find a machine with a video screen on it being wheeled into his room. With his granddaughter by his bedside, Mr. Quintana listened as a doctor in an undisclosed location, and whom he had never met, began to discuss his care. His surprise turned to sadness and dismay when the doctor shared that Mr. Quintana was likely not going to survive this hospital stay and prepared him for end-of-life care.
A prognosis of death is never easy news for a person or a family. But hearing the news from a doctor you have a relationship with, who brings compassion, presence, and leadership, can decrease the suffering and ease the way forward. In Mr. Quintana's case, the terrible news and challenging decisions were worsened by the impersonal and jarring way that they were broached. No one wants to have a conversation about death with a stranger on a video screen.
So is this a condemnation of telemedicine? Of technology?
I don't think so. I believe that this sad turn of events simply points to positive and negative uses of telemedicine and positive and negative uses of technology.
So many people default to videoconferencing as the go-to (or even default) form for telemedicine to take. We believe videoconferencing has severe limitations because it requires expensive hardware and circuitous scheduling coordination. Those are some of the reasons that we believe hybrid Store-and-Forward telemedicine is significantly more powerful of a tool.
But this story brings into focus an even more important and powerful reason that we believe telemedicine should be about team-based collaboration -- not videoconferencing between a doctor and a patient. When telemedicine is used for healthcare providers to collaborate among each other, the patient can interact primarily or exclusively with the providers that they have a relationship with -- and the "other opinions" on the team can be shared among the medical team. That way, the providers can be leaders, healers, and human beings FIRST -- but use telemedicine to consult with other people on the team as necessary, and without disruption to the care for that patient.
For instance, in Mr. Quintana's case, perhaps an outside opinion was necessary regarding his end-of-life care. But rather than that opinion being piped in through a video screen, we believe it would have been far better for his provider, obviously, to consult with the outside doctor -- and then have a conversation with Mr. Quintana in person, within the context of their existing relationship.
Don't risk this kind of technology screw-up. Prioritize human relationships and let technology -- and telemedicine -- serve them.