The People's Perspective on Medicine

Show 1184: How Technology Could Make Medicine More Humane

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Medicine is heavy on technology but often lacking in empathy. How could technology be coupled with listening to make medicine more humane?
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Marvelous technology like CT and MRI imaging, genotyping and microbiome analysis have given health professionals more power than ever to learn what is going wrong with an individual. Special tools like robotic surgery can help doctors treat complex problems. Highly advanced prosthetics can help people recover from devastating accidents or radical operations.

Problems with Technology:

However, both physicians and patients are often unhappy with the dominance of computers in healthcare today. Doctors feel like data clerks, and patients do not feel like their doctors are listening to them or really caring for them. Is there any way to make medicine more humane? Our guests have two very different–but not incompatible–approaches to this challenge.

Why have electronic medical records been so disappointing? In large measure, these computerized tools were not developed to improve patient care or facilitate physicians’ workflow. Instead, they were designed to be part of the billing process. Overall, that is a job they do reasonably well.

How Could Technology Make Medicine More Humane?

Can we re-imagine the use of computers and, more importantly, artificial intelligence, to make medicine more humane? Dr. Eric Topol, a champion of bringing big data to bear on personalized medicine, thinks that artificial intelligence (AI) can free doctors from menial tasks and point them to a deeper understanding of individual patients’ problems. Is it realistic to expect use of AI to allow healthcare professionals to experience greater empathy with their patients?

How Narrative Medicine Might Make Medicine More Humane:

Dr. Sonia Rapaport sees narrative medicine as offering a lifeline for the human connection between patients and physicians. This movement highlights the importance of the patient’s story. While doctors have recognized the centrality of the “patient history” for centuries, listening even beyond what is needed for diagnosis can help people heal from the traumatic events of their lives. Some of those traumas occur at the hands of our modern healthcare system.

This Week's Guests:

Eric Topol, MD, is a world-renowned cardiologist, executive vice president of Scripps Research and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute. He holds the Gary & Mary West Endowed Chair of Innovative Medicine at Scripps Research. His work melds genomics, big data, and both information technologies and digital health technologies to advance the promise of personalized medicine. He is the author of The Patient Will See You Now and The Creative Destruction of Medicine. His latest book is Deep Medicine: How Artificial Intelligence Can Make Healthcare Human Again. Credit for Dr. Topol’s photograph goes to Michael Balderas.

Sonia Rapaport, MD, DABFM, DABIHM, DNBPAS, practices functional and integrative medicine at Haven Medical in Chapel Hill, NC. She treats medically complex patients with undiagnosed conditions and environmentally acquired illnesses such as mold illness, Lyme disease, mast cell activation syndrome, chronic fatigue syndrome, EDS and POTS. She is the founding past president of the International Society for Environmentally Acquired Illness.

Dr. Rapaport has an MFA in Creative Writing and has lectured nationally on Narrative Medicine. She is a Tea and Health expert and a WTA certified Tea Sommelier.

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