By Brian Donley, Chief executive, Cleveland Clinic London
For the last 2,400 years, since the time of Hippocrates, healthcare has been about balancing the science of medicine and the art of medicine. Where the art can be understood as the empathy expressed from a caregiver to a patient, the science can be seen in the innovations driving extraordinary breakthroughs in patient care, helping to save many millions of lives over the past century. As we look forward to the next 100 years, we will see the growing power of science allowing more time to focus on empathy.
From pioneering heart treatments in the 1950s, to recent breakthroughs in face and uterus transplant surgery, those at the forefront of medical innovation have often looked to technology. Empathy should be at the core of that drive to innovate, as we look to help patients with the most complex medical needs, ensuring science and art work together to provide the best care.
Some of these innovations in care are aided by specific tools, the use of robots in surgery for example. However, there is a much wider role that technology can play in safety, quality and clinical transparency, enabling the collection of data to help guide and determine the most appropriate course of treatment.
Hospitals have long been paper based, with inevitable delays in getting clinical information to frontline caregivers. Electronic medical records (EMRs), combined with devices and apps, allow medics to access test results and other clinical information in real time at the bedside. This increases clinical quality and puts the patient at the centre of decision-making.
Integrated technological developments like EMR free up caregivers from the burden of data collection and allow them to be the person that interprets the data and counsels the patient directly. Through this we will see a more personalised, empathetic approach that will enable better care for all. And by training future doctors and nurses with these cutting-edge tools, alongside the crucial focus on empathy, we can expand the skills of clinical teams of the future to deliver better care.
This move to digital is also hugely convenient for patients, who have instant access to their medical data via an app. People have become used to technology-enabled, transparent customer service in their daily activities and they expect the same of their medical experiences. Patient apps can give access to test results, prescription refills, follow-up appointments, payment and medical information.
Some may worry that technology will be used to replace doctors, but it can do the opposite. Technology can move patients and doctors to where they need to be quicker; it’s an enabler, not a barrier. Technology can also greatly improve safety. A unit-dose pharmacy robot, for example, individually wraps and tracks medication by barcode to the patient’s bedside, reducing the potential for human error.
Another area where technology can be hugely beneficial to both patients and caregivers is virtual medicine. Offering virtual consultations with world-leading specialists in London, for example, opens healthcare services up to a global audience. Of course, there’s a limit to the virtual approach when it comes to treatment, but combining an initial virtual appointment with a global hospital network and the instant access to electronic records offers incredible flexibility for the patient.
In many ways the future of healthcare will see a return to the strengths of the older versions of medicine, with providers attending to patients in their homes, albeit virtually, and following them throughout their lives. This will enable personalised and equitable care, while always being there for the individual at their time of greatest need for empathy.