MGR: Are Humans Underrated in Medicine? Geoff Colvin, Best Selling Author & Senior Editor-at-Large, Fortune Magazine

Submitted by Nolan Patel – CHPCC

Pic for WallWhat is our value as humans in a society where rapidly evolving technology replaces our roles in the workplace? Fortune Magazine Senior Editor and author of “Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else” Geoff Colvin posed this question during his talk at the first Management Grand Rounds of 2016 on January 6th.  With Google and Tesla introducing self-driving vehicles and companies like McDonald’s discussing the possibilities of automating their services due to the impending threat of mandated higher minimum wage we are seeing the inevitable advancements of technology encroaching on jobs traditionally done by humans. Mr. Colvin’s talk, both motivating and thought-provoking, aimed to elaborate on the implications of this trend in the healthcare environment.  The consumers in healthcare, unlike the rest of the sectors, are patients for whom safety and positive outcomes are the main consideration. Geoff points out that hospitals are already seeing technology replacing people and will only move further in that direction due to research being done with such tools as unassisted robots for surgery and machines that can independently control intraoperative anesthesia. Given that machines can be programmed to carry out intricate, exact tasks with almost no error, would you feel comfortable knowing that your surgery is being done completely by a machine? Tech leaders and insurance companies openly encourage these changes because to them technology means more efficiency and decreased costs associated with staffing. However, as Mr. Colvin argues, patients unlike burgers at McDonald’s are humans with constantly changing needs; needs that can most aptly be met by another person. Geoff emphasizes that as a collective population we need to stop asking “what can’t computers do?” and instead ask “What are humans most driven to do?” He lists three key qualities and healthy behaviors that humans are innately inclined towards and classifies these behaviors as the “Skills of Deep Human Interaction.”

1. Empathy (or understanding what the other person is thinking and feeling): Mr. Colvin’s greatest example of empathy in the workplace taking over technical skills is in the United States military. Today most outsiders to the military immediately think of combat when they picture the work being done by our soldiers abroad. However Geoff points out that today our military’s hardest yet most effective missions have been achieved through peaceful, diplomatic relations between soldiers and leaders of villages in foreign countries all possible due to strong empathetic skills. There are currently computers that can detect human emotion going so far as to differentiate between genuine and fake emotions. However Geoff argues that humans are hardwired to share emotions only with each other and, as a result, their value in the context of patient care is ever-existent. Would robots and machines ever be able to replace a bedside nurse or clinician? Even if they could, would you feel any type of connection with it? Here’s a test to check your ability to gauge another’s emotions

2. Creative problem solving together: Geoff feels that NASA’s mission control response during the Apollo 13 crisis was one our nation’s most prominent examples of a group of individuals working together to rapidly solve a critical problem. In hospitals and clinics all around the world humans must work together to solve problems whether they are related directly to the patient or some research question or even an administrative issue. However, the most crucial point that seems to be often forgotten is that the patient is part of the team making decisions. With the new shift towards “patient-centered medicine” patients have an ever-increasing role and voice in the process and clinicians and hospitals are adjusting to this change. Would technology ever be able to replace this very personal aspect of healthcare? Computers are programmed in such a way that they follow specific logic in order to get to an endpoint, is there any type of logic possible that would be able to account for the emotional aspect of medical decision making from a patient’s perspective?

3. Storytelling: Geoff mentions a former CEO of GE who embraced storytelling as the reason for his success during his tenure as a global leader. On first thought storytelling is exactly what it sounds like, however fundamentally a good storyteller can communicate complicated thoughts in ideas in such a way that everyone can understand. Such skills are crucial in the world of medicine and public health. From being able to communicate to skeptical families on the importance of the flu vaccine to giving a personal example showing that you can relate to the other person’s struggle, this skill is invaluable.

If there is one thing to take away from Geoff’s talk it’s that we should be optimistic about the future in terms of employment and workplace culture. Today’s employers are seeking a new group of skills and to our advantage they are skills that anyone can be trained in. The skills of deep human interaction are a part of human nature and it is up to us to embrace them. Geoff leaves us with the thought, “Success is becoming less about what you know and more about what you’re like.” Here’s a test to check whether you’re more valuable than a robot

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