Laurence Pritchett: The Fear of Technology in Healthcare

There is a belief and hope today that technology will solve all our problems. Well, it won’t! Technology can go a long way to help with patient safety and administering the best care to patients, but it isn’t a panacea.

There is also a fear of technology: What it is, what it does, is it going to replace me, can it really help?

In the world of alarm management, the technology is software, something that most times cannot be seen or touched, connecting other technologies that are connected to patients. These patients are primarily being cared for by nurses who are often uneducated about the various technologies they use. Often, this results in fear of the unknown as it can be difficult and daunting to understand or trust something they cannot see or touch since it sits in the abyss of a hospital network.

Nurses who are just starting their careers are typically in their early twenties, and they are fully versed in a world of cellphone software and technologies. The fear of technology is less apparent among them than among those in the profession who are in their sixties—many of whom consider technology a hindrance.

Though alarm management software resides and is maintained by the IT/Network/Biomed/Telephony departments of healthcare facilities, it’s a clinical application used 24/7 by caregivers at the point of care i.e., the patient. All activity from the various technologies begins at the bedside with the patient. This can be unnerving for anybody, especially a patient, if there is no clarity about the functionality of these technologies.

Why is it then that many facilities are keeping this often simple information in the environment of its origin? Many believe that software belongs in IT so that’s where the information stays, and no one else needs to know about it. Yet, if we break down these silos, bring them together, communicate, educate, and translate with respect and understanding, we can go a long way to embrace technology on all levels with greater trust and admiration for its capabilities. We will be able to utilize it to the potential it was designed for and, most importantly, we can effectively communicate to the people they are intended and developed to help—the patients.

There is a lot to be said for and about technology in healthcare, but if we are not collaborating and educating each other from our respective silos, we cannot communicate effectively to the patients and their loved ones, to put their minds somewhat at ease about the technologies being utilized to help and improve patient care.

Laurence Pritchett is an account executive at Connexall. He spoke at the Nov, 14 inaugural meeting of the National Coalition to Promote Continuous Monitoring of Patients on Opioids.

2 thoughts on “Laurence Pritchett: The Fear of Technology in Healthcare

  1. One silo created by the engineering world is related to “user troubleshooting” and as someone who started his career in the 80s, the attitude of biomedical engineers then was to go to great lengths to make sure medical staff, nurses in particular, did not “touch” the equipment. This has gone on for a long time and is still the current approach by most biomeds I interact with.

    Having said that, we have all been through the learning curve associated with troubleshooting and only once you have acquired these skills can you rush up to the OR or ICU when they have a problem with confidence, something nurses don’t get to experience when it comes to equipment. Couple that with the high incidence of use error, other than the HTM factors, they make up a significant part of our workload and the TCO of equipment.

    One way to breakdown the silos is to get nurses involved with basic, point-of-care user troubleshooting. Most manufacturers’ instructions have good troubleshooting guides these days. Put aside all the legal junk in the front of the IFU, a competent user should be able to establish a user problem within a short period of time (and differentiate it from a technical issue ). The fact is most user errors are the same issues repeated over and over; the only way to really learn from your mistakes is to resolve them yourself .

    This is a skill which is needed when time is an issue, if you have ever watched nurses swap a ventilator on a really critical ICU patient, you will appreciate the need for point-of-care troubleshooting skills. Hospitals are 24/7 organizations; things don’t only going wrong during working hours.

    George Koning
    The Clinical Equipment User Manual library

  2. I am dumbfounded at this post showing up on this blog. Setting aside its explicit age bias, it attributes reluctance to (blindly?) apply software-based technologies to patient care systems to “fear of technology” on the part of stakeholders. No evidence is provided to support the contention, let alone the degree to which fear contributes to the phenomenon (assuming it exists at a level worthy of mention in the technology-drenched world of healthcare). What concerns this old geezer with over 35 years of engineering practice under my belt are implications that software-based technologies applied to safety-related applications are good just because they exist and do not require the same application of good engineering practices to which other technologies adhere.

    From Henry Petroski’s “Success through Failure”:

    “Thirty years is about the time it takes one ‘generation’ of engineers to supplant another within a technological culture. Though a new or evolving bridge type might be novel for its engineers to design, an older one that has become commonplace does not hold the same interest or command the same respect of a younger generation, who treat it as normal technology…Thus, in the absence of oversight and guidance from those who knew the underlying ignorance, assumptions, and cautions best, the
    technology was pushed further and further without a full appreciation of its or its engineers’ limitations.”

    It is not an engineer’s role to get people to “embrace technology.” Or at least it’s not this one’s. I’ll stick with bringing my healthy skepticism, informed by theory and practice, to my technical responsibilities, likewise informed.

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