Bedside Manners

A patient is told by a doctor he is dying—via video chat. Is it a wake up call for healthcare organization investing big on technology?

The story went viral this week, and indeed it should have: a California doctor decides to use video chat to tell a patient and his family he going to die. 

Though it wasn’t included in the news on this unfortunate use of tech, healthcare  organizations are in the midst of a major tech transition. They now spend a staggering $7 billion annually on IT investments. Since 2011, healthcare IT investments are up 583%, and mergers and acquisitions of IT companies by healthcare organizations are at their highest level ever.  

Funding for cutting edge artificial intelligence, IoT for medical devices, blockchain, and other emerging technologies is enabling better access and better care for patients than ever before. That’s indisputable. But it is also exposing some very real holes in how leaders and talent arebeing trained to use these technologies. 

Sally Beatty, a principal in Korn Ferry’s Global Technology practice, says the incident underscores for healthcare leaders the importance of understanding how doctors, nurses, and staff will interact with the technology in serviceof the patient. “The users of the technology need to understand their role in using it to improve patient outcomes and experiences,” says Beatty. 

That didn’t happen in this case. The impersonal delivery further upset the grieving family, though the hospital says doctors and nurses where in regular, face-to-face contact with the family and that the initial diagnosis was given in-person. Moreover, an argument can be made that there are some instances where video chat is appropriate. It’s not uncommon, for instance, for a terminal patient to seek out specialists and receive treatment from physicians hundreds of millions away.

Still, Tom Flannery, Ph.d, senior client partner specializing in healthcare with Korn Ferry, says “the level of skill on how to communicate on the part of physicians to deliver bad news via tech” is extremely high.

Maureen Ryan, senior client partner and member of the Global Healthcare Services and Diversity practices at KornFerry, says organizations must keep a focus on the human side of dealing with health issues at the core of their technology strategy. One easy way to judge if tech is being deployed in a people-centric manner is to measure it against the organization’s purpose. Industries across the board need to get better at adding a human touch to innovation, but some are held to a higher standard than others. Healthcare is one of those industries, precisely because its underlying purpose is caregiving. 

“Your talent needs to be aligned with your tech advances,” says Ryan, noting that she means both in terms of having the proper skills and emotional intelligence to deploy it to improve the patient experience.