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Vivek Bhatt

In from the cold: how digital enables human connections in healthcare

By Vivek Bhatt

I’m a digital guy. The word “technology” is in my title. I live and breathe it every day.

When I talk with family and friends outside of my field, I see mixed reactions, confusion and even some fear. Cloud connectivity. Virtual reality. Artificial intelligence. Machine learning. “It all seems so cold and complex,” a friend recently said to me. “Aren’t we talking about replacing real doctors and nurses?”
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With my friend’s comment fresh in my mind, I stumbled upon this article about medical students at Oregon Health & Science University; they’re believed to be the first class required to pass an oral exam in the skill of “compassionate communication.” Can they deliver a life-threatening diagnosis with sensitivity? Can they tell a woman that her husband of 27-years has died on the operating table?

To me, the connection between the goal of the class and the goal of my work was clear: Whether we’re helping doctors choose the right word at the right time or supporting them with the right digital tool at the right time, it’s about enabling clinicians to be their very best.

The fact is, digital tools are transforming the health care industry in countless, virtually endless ways. Most importantly, these tools have the power to improve how clinicians practice and care for their patients.

Improving the patient experience
In the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), approximately 50 percent of patients suffer from malnutrition. These patients undergo huge metabolic changes induced by stress, hormone release, anesthesia and other factors. The body tries to overcome this stress, which requires a lot of energy and often results in decreased muscle mass. A ventilator feature provides the dietician with a measurement of calorie requirements to help prevent malnutrition.

A wireless fetal heart rate monitor has completely transformed an expectant mom’s labor experience. Dr. Meghann Batten, director of nurse-midwife hospitalists at Henrico Doctors’, has been using the monitor and calls out the value of giving women in their care the autonomy and privacy that’s granted by a lack of intrusive and cumbersome cords and wires.

Bringing clinicians closer to colleagues
Ultrasound is now equipped with a cloud-based image management system that allows expectant parents to share digital images of their baby immediately and doctors to submit images to collaborate with remote colleagues – all with the click of a button.

Imagine you go to your doctor because of a nagging pain. Your doctor scans the area with ultrasound, and she also takes a picture of you pointing to the place of discomfort. That photograph becomes part of your patient record when a consulting physician – a half a world away – reviews your case. Upon seeing the photograph of you – not just the ultrasound image – the remote clinician offers a second – and correct – assessment of the source of your pain.

These are some of the illustrations of digital health care that I share with my friends and family when I get “those looks.” I tell them I understand their concerns; on the surface, digital can seem to be removing the human touch. But, in actuality – and almost counter-intuitively – digital applications are about people. They empower people to give better, more accurate, more impactful care.

So, is digital “cold and complex,” as my friend claimed? I respectfully disagree. Advances in digital bring us closer. Closer to precision health care. Closer to meaningful outcomes. Closer to answers that used to be out of reach.

About the author: Vivek Bhatt is the chief technology officer for GE Healthcare Clinical Care Solutions

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