The Human Connection

What Is The Heart & Soul Of Health Care? A Transform Attendee Perspective.


The Human Connection


Guest Post Written By Transform 2014 Attendee: Lynn Kosegi, of M*Modal in Pittsburgh, PA.

This is my third Mayo Clinic Center for Innovation Transform conference.  As usual, the conference is full of inspirational speakers and exciting presentations and is, as always, a wonderful opportunity to engage with others who are passionate about health care. Each year that I’ve attended I have gone home re-energized, with a renewed motivation to contribute to the field.

However, this year I find myself feeling uncomfortable, and have more than a few times met my colleague’s eye with a growing sense of unease. Yes, the presentations and poster demonstrations portray the same dedication to improving care and the patient experience.  The unwavering dedication to health and wellness is unchanged.  I think what is causing my discomfort is that, for the first time, the emphasis on technology seems to be overtaking discussions about the human touch that is so vital to health care.

Every day we see new articles in the media that talk about increasing physician dissatisfaction. Growing numbers of physicians are leaving the field. Others no longer recommend the medical profession to those considering the field. We read about physicians who are discouraged because financial pressures force them to see too many patients, because increasing administrative and clerical duties take time away from patient care, and because the EMR puts a computer in between them and their patients. The common thread through all of these things is the decreased ability to build and nurture the patient relationship.

During this year’s Transform conference, as I listen to discussions about mobile health monitors, apps that encourage better health behavior, and technologies that enable virtual patient visits, what is disturbing me is the increasing talk about technology’s role in health care, and the decreasing talk about the role of direct, human-to-human, care and compassion.

Please do not misunderstand. This is not an anti-technology rant. I work for a company that develops software, and I love my job. I came to the conference laden with iPad, smart phone, laptop, and Kindle. I’d be wearing my FitBit if I hadn’t lost it over the weekend. I believe in the power of technology to improve health and to bring health care to millions who might otherwise never receive care at all.  However, in our quest for new and better technology, are we beginning to forget about the human element of health care?

I began working with the Mayo Clinic Rochester almost five years ago. After every visit, I go home to Pittsburgh laden with stories, not about the technology that I encounter, but about the people, to the point where my colleagues refer to “Mayo Clinic” as my “drinking word” (you know – where every time I say “Mayo Clinic”, someone says, “drink!”)

I talk about the server in a Rochester restaurant who asked me if I had any special dietary needs and about the bar tender that I overheard telling a customer that he couldn’t have a beer because she knew he wasn’t supposed to drink it. I tell about the hotel security guard who once knocked on my hotel room door because I was in the shower when my wake-up call came, and they were worried when I didn’t answer the phone.  I’ve gone home with stories about a patient I overheard telling about how, when she looked lost in a hallway, a volunteer took her by the elbow and walked her to her next appointment, and about a librarian who helped a patient find information about her condition, and then offered to package it up and mail it to her home so that she didn’t have to carry it. But my favorite stories have been about patients who talk about the time they’ve spent with the doctors they see here at Mayo. They talk about how doctors back home spend 5 minutes with them, and how amazed they are that a Mayo Clinic physician  - a doctor from the Mayo Clinic - spent an hour just talking with them.

Counter to the common thread that runs through stories of physician dissatisfaction, the shining thread that runs through all of these stories is the human touch. The hand-on-the-elbow. The direct care and compassion. These stories are about people  - especially doctors – who take the time to meet the patient, human-to-human.

One of the most disturbing things I heard during Monday’s presentations was the young college student who explained that social media is the way her generation interacts with the world.  Her presentation included a slide with a picture of young people walking outside, all heads down looking at their phones. Is technology really helping them interact with the world?  Or are they missing the world as they look down at their devices? Are they so busy posting instagrams of life that they forget to experience it? As they communicate with others in 140 characters, counting followers and re-tweets, are they interacting on any meaningful level?  Is the technology a facilitator, or a barrier, to real engagement?

I frequently think about a sociology professor friend of mine, who once pointed out that since the invention of the stethoscope, which meant that a doctor no longer had to lay his ear on the patient’s chest to hear the heartbeat, technology has come in between the doctor and his patient, even while it improved care.

The more exposed I am to the use of technology in health care, the more appreciative I am of the uniqueness of the Center for Innovation’s focus on the interaction between the physician and patient as a central point in their designs.  But in general, as text messaging replaces conversation, as snapping and posting pictures replaces immersion in our experiences, as 140 characters mean that very few of us are reading David Copperfield before going to bed, let’s be sure that the technology we design and develop seeks to enhance, but never replace, the human touch in health care.

Let’s not forget – let’s please not forget - that the reason we are all here, the heart and soul of health care itself, is a physician’s very human relationship with a patient.


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