Yesterday, I was volunteering at a cancer hospital when a lady in her 80s expressed in a quiet voice “everything is becoming too technical for us” when she was encouraged to complete an online questionnaire. Not exactly sure what to say, I replied with a warm smile, “we are always here to help.”
McDonalization of society through the use of technology dominates our everyday life. We want quick results, quick services, and quick means of getting work done. The term we live by is “efficiency”. If we don’t get our morning coffee in 2 minutes, we become irritated and blame the staff for being ‘too slow’. If we have to wait for our medications for over 10 minutes, we say that the pharmacist doesn’t know what he/she is doing. Somehow, technology appears to promise us to bring ‘efficiency’ in our lives and make things ‘easy for all of us’. But does it really?
The use of technology in healthcare has pros and cons. One of the biggest advantages is that it helps physicians diagnose and treat many health conditions with great accuracy. For example, MRI scans help to image brain areas to determine and treat underlying pathology. Without these imaging instruments, treatment for neuropsychiatric disorders would have been minimal to negligible. Further, technology saves time by allowing to retain and retrieve patient data quickly. With the introduction of Electronic Medical Records (EMR), patients’ medical information is becoming highly accessible to all healthcare professionals. They no longer have to worry about storing or misplacing umpteenth number of paper records.
Although the use of technology has many advantages, we may be ignoring many of the disadvantages associated with it. One of the biggest disadvantages is that technology may be making life tougher for some of us. The generation who did not grow up with technology, the Silent Generation, may have trouble adjusting to the striking changes brought upon by technology advancements. Whether it is in the sign-in process (e.g., self-service computerized symptom screening kiosk at hospitals), or paying for parking (e.g., again, by a self-service machine that prints a receipt after you swipe your credit card), we are asked to use self-service at almost every step of treatment-seeking. It is possible that the use of technology in healthcare settings for every aspect of patient care may contribute to frustration, irritability, and anxiety in some patients. Over-reliance on technology in healthcare settings may not be as advantageous and attractive as it appears to promise.
It is important that we are sensitive and considerate towards the needs and struggles of each patient who is current healthcare users. Over-use of technology may result in the ignorance of restlessness it brings for a subset of patients (‘silent’ patients). We need to be vigilant and need to use technology in a way that maximizes efficiency while minimizing burdens it imposes on some patients.