Within a week two tweets showed how doctors see medicine: one predicted that doctors would soon be obsolete and the other linked to a study reporting the ‘resurrection of physical exam.’
If you listen to doctors and their conversations you’ll find two polarizing views reflected in these tweets. There are those who see a brilliant future with technology and others who dream of the way things used to be. These are the exponentialists and the sentimentalists.
The exponentialists see a nearly utopian future where technology will make everything better. Capturing all that’s new and different about medicine under the ideal of ‘digital health,’ they’re optimistic about their world view. Showcasing the path to a better life, they use tech’s earliest iterations as evidence of how good healthcare will be. The exponentialist relishes the shock effect of their science fiction predictions. This mindset is born of Silicon Valley thinking where, it seems, the world is at the cusp of escape velocity.
The medical exponentialist believes technology alone will achieve its own destiny. Soon the robots will be driving the bus and the doctors will be along for an amazing ride. This is a concept referred to as technological determinism and its central to the culture of the exponentialist.
The sentimentalists, on the other hand, yearn for the industrial age days of medicine when doctors were doctors and a chart sat on a shelf. Skeptical of change and fueled by nostalgia, the sentimentalist lives between the humanist draw of a simpler time and a rising tide of change. They’re likely to be found complaining about EHRs, lamenting medicine’s ‘absence of touch’ and watching Abraham Verghese re-runs on YouTube.
The sentimentalists lives with the belief that artificial intelligence will ever beat what can be won with the laying on of hands.
What are you?
If you’re wondering about me you can peek at my last 750 posts and speculate. I’m bullish on the future but not afraid to ask the inconvenient questions that make me look like a throwback. While I believe that technology will make this medicine’s greatest generation I’ll add that the sentimentalist perspective should never be dismissed.
With the clear understanding that we’re facing exponential change, the question that keeps me up is what part of medicine’s past belongs in our future?
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Image via Oregon State University on Flickr