Healthcare is human

The ever-accelerating churn of innovation and advancement in healthcare, spurred either by the more recent urgency of this current pandemic or by the underlying tides of progress already underway, have made this an especially productive time to be a technology company in healthcare. And technology, particularly seen through the lens of “Big Tech”, has outgrown its status as merely assistive to be an all-out good in and of itself. In many markets, that may very well be the case. However, in healthcare, the temptation to promote technology as a potential panacea for all of the industry’s ills and inefficiencies is precipitous.

The biggest reason that technology can’t just readily be anointed the savior of healthcare is simple: healthcare is deeply human. Healthcare is a service even more than it is a science. Healthcare providers are highly trained humans whose jobs are ultimately measured by the lives they touch, care for, and advise, more than the particular tools they used to document countless clinical procedures. Patients, in general, are far more emotionally invested in figuring out what’s making them sick, how to make themselves better, how to keep themselves from getting sick in the future than in the specific clinical tools used. While by many physicians’ accounts, it’s increasingly popular for patients to get medical advice from “Dr. Google,” there is still an unmatched potency in being able to interact with patients as people, not just case numbers on the other side of a tech interface.

Technology is a tool and a medium. It is not the product in healthcare. That said, technology with its objectivity and limitless processing potential can play a central role. Specifically, technology can drive better outcomes in healthcare by making it more accessible, precise, and persistent.

Accessibility is one of the most widely touted advantages of leveraging technology in healthcare. And rightly so. What was traditionally done on paper - patient charts, check-in forms, HIPAA waivers, billing, referrals, etc. - should and can now be done and accessed through automated, tech-enabled check-in and intake processes. Patients who may not live close to a specialist can now access that care through a computer and an internet connection or a smartphone, whether it’s a therapy session, wellness visit, or even a skin check. In the midst of a public health crisis, for example, patients who may not be able to seek in-person care due to elevated risk factors can still access the care they need from the comfort and safety of their homes using technology.

While we, as humans, possess an incredibly powerful ability to extrapolate and deduce larger patterns and narratives from our experiences, we are not the most precise of record-keepers. Our experiences and perceptions of the world are inherently subjective — at odds with the objectivity required to accurately compile data. So when clinical decisions and outcomes rely on the most subtle of nuances or smallest of measures or even the most expansive of timescales, the precision of the data upon which those judgments are made, matters. Technology doesn’t fatigue, it doesn’t emote. It is inherently objective and with its increasingly limitless processing power, technology can consistently deliver the precision that can ultimately drive better care across all different aspects of healthcare.

The prevalence of technology in all aspects of our lives also helps establish its role as an ever-present steward of our health. This ultimately powers the shift from healthcare being episodic and reactive to persistent and proactive. Technology can ensure that healthcare in any of its forms - treatment, education, advice, etc. - persists beyond the doctor’s office to be incorporated more into our everyday lives.

Paul Kalanithi, a luminary physician whom we tragically lost too soon, in his critically acclaimed memoir, “When Breath Becomes Air,” said of science what can easily translate to technology: “Science is based on reproducibility and manufactured objectivity. As strong as that makes its ability to generate claims about matter and energy, it also makes scientific knowledge inapplicable to the existential, visceral nature of human life, which is unique, subjective and unpredictable. Science may provide the most useful ways to organize empirical, reproducible data, but its power to do so is predicated on its inability to grasp the most central aspects of human life: hope, fear, love, hate, beauty, envy, honor, weakness, striving, suffering, virtue.”

Technology alone is not going to solve the problem of access or outcomes in healthcare. Patients, providers, employers, caregivers, family members, payers are hopefully, ultimately going to solve the pain points in healthcare with the targeted, strategically deployed help of technology. At SkinIO, we aim to be that helping partner to democratize access to dermatological care to anybody, anywhere, anytime.