As I have said before, when done correctly, doctoring is an act of love.
It is founded on the most basic of human interactions, intimacy. Patients open their doors and closets revealing a treasure trove of brutal humanity. Physicians dedicate themselves to healing, to upholding a sacred covenant born of tears and blood. It is a partnership, a carefully rehearsed choreography.
The dance is ancient. To speak and be heard. To be studied, To have one’s shoulder caressed gently, one’s joints manipulated, and the pitter patter of one’s heart auscultated. This is the birthright of all humans.
Bearing witness to grief. The well-intentioned touch of the hand. These are things humans do for each other. These are things that will never be replaced by technology. Revealing my deepest fears to a computer will not make me whole. It will not reach over, put it’s arms around my shoulders, and tell me that everything will be OK. And even if it could, I wouldn’t believe it.
People like Vinod Khosla forget this when they talk of the future of medicine and technology. Those who spend so much time opining on medical care, although never having delivered any personally, don’t understand how intimacy and healing intertwine.
I could not give up eighty percent of what I do with patients, and then expect that intimacy to be there for that other twenty percent. Familiarity and trust grow from the mundane. I could not expand my panel to thousands, and have enough time or emotional energy to build such intricate relationships with each one.
Technology can log millions of data points and whiz through thousands of algorithms in a blink. But it can’t look you in the eye and get you to reveal your secrets, your innermost fears, or your thoughtless details. It can’t press your hand in urgency.
As flawed as we flesh and blood doctors are at diagnosis and prognosis, we will always have this.
We will always have this.
Jordan Grumet is an internal medicine physician who blogs at In My Humble Opinion. Watch his talk at dotMED 2013, Caring 2.0: Social Media and the Rise Of The Empathic Physician. He is the author of I Am Your Doctor: and This Is My Humble Opinion.