“Most fields that go digital do so over the course of 10 or 20 years, in a very organic way, with the early adopters, the rank and file, and then the laggards,” he said. “And in that kind of organic adoption curve, you see problems arise, and people begin to deal with them and understand them and mitigate them.
“What the federal intervention did was essentially turbocharge the digitization of healthcare. We’ve seen this in a very telescoped way. … It’s like we got started on a huge dose of chemo, stat.”
Moving forward, Dr. Wachter said the focus has to be on improving the use and integration of healthcare to ensure that it translates to better patient care. For example, going to digital radiology has in many ways ended the daily meetings that once were commonplace in hospital “film rooms.” In essence, the move from “analog to digital” meant people communicated less. Now, multidisciplinary rounds and other unit-based approaches are trying to recreate teamwork.
“Places are doing some pretty impressive things to try to bring teams back together in a digital environment,” Dr. Wachter said. “But, the point is, I didn’t give this any thought. I don’t know whether you did. What didn’t cross my own cognitive radar screen was that when we go digital, we will screw up the relationships, because people can now be wherever they want to be to do their work.”
Richard Quinn is a freelance writer in New Jersey.