Editor’s Introduction

Technology’s Influence on the Workplace

The workplace has undoubtedly been evolving due to the colossal advances in technology that have taken place over the last few decades. We were once living in a society where work could not be done unless the individual was physically present at their place of employment. Today, we see skyrocketing numbers of online workers, the immense usage of communication via email, Skype, and other online platforms, and a desire for day to day tasks to be completed on a 5 inch screen.

Sherry Turkle’s Reclaiming Conversation illustrates the experiences of Victor Tripp, the director of a large financial services firm in New York. Tripp stated that when he attempts to round up his team of colleagues for a meeting, a mere three will show up. He stated, “I’m usually facing someone who wants to send twenty-nine emails to fix a problem.” Clearly, it is no secret that jobs are different in today’s society, and it is possible that many of the responsibilities necessary for these occupations can be done through technology.

However, the job of a physician is arguably distinctive from any other profession on a broad scale of occupations. Doctor’s have no set work hours and no clear cut expectations of what to expect on a day to day basis. Most importantly, the lives of human beings are often in the hands of medical personnel. We have all had family or friends be admitted into a hospital, and all we can do is hope that their doctors know what they are doing. Not only are doctor’s responsible for making accurate diagnoses and treatments, but they are also responsible for the satisfaction of their patients. This fact raises many important questions in the realm of inquiry of technology’s influence on the workplace: Can we treat patients remotely with technologically advanced equipment? Can doctors meet the true demands of their job through means of technology? Will medicine eventually become primarily technologically based? Do we need checkups anymore? Can we truly rely on technology to treat people?

This collection of sources offers an insight to the ever-evolving world of medicine, technology, and their intersections.

Can We Eliminate Health Disparities with Technology?

We do not have basic universal healthcare in the United States. Shocking, I know. Because of this fact, millions of Americans are incapable of accessing necessary health services. Native Americans and Alaskan Natives are particularly at a higher risk for health disparities. Their community locations are often rurally located, leaving them with no easy access to hospital services.

In 2016, the Journal of Telemedicine published a research study called “Eye Disease in Patients with Diabetes Screened with Telemedicine” that aimed towards diagnosing eye disease in diabetic patients in Native American/Alaskan Native populations. Specialized cameras were used to collect images of patient’s eyes and these images were sent to diagnostic readers to be graded. The use of technology in this circumstance helped diagnose patients of serious eye conditions that may have gone unnoticed. Now, with the correct diagnosis, these individuals will be aware of the health problems they possess and can take further steps to seek care.

On a broader scale, the issue of individuals foregoing medical treatment because of their direct access to close hospitals is a major issue in the United States. Hundreds of thousands of diseases can be considered “silent killers.” There is a reason why checkups are necessary. However, if people do not have the means to easily access doctors or afford the transportation to get there, they are in danger of letting underlying conditions progress. Technology such as mobile phones, cameras, microphones, and video cameras are all easy equipment that can be transported to these remote locations in which thousands of people reside. It is clear that technology can have these major benefits when dealing with disparities in the medical field, but what about in regards to the general population? Would technology even have a significant impact those who are in close proximity to medical services?

We Don’t Need a Doctor’s Visit Anymore to Know How Healthy We Are

In 2014, Apple released its newest iOS software that introduced the “Health” app. The iPhone 6 was built with motion sensor co-processors which allowed the phone to record steps, heart rate, blood pressure, and many other vital bodily functions. However, what many people may not know is that the possibilities of mobile phones in terms of health do not stop at reading simple vital signs.

The article “Smartphones are Revolutionizing Medicine” discusses major diseases and disorders that can be diagnosed using the camera, flash, and microphone on smartphones. For example, blood disorders are often diagnosed by measuring the hemoglobin levels in the blood. A new app has recently been developed called “HemaApp,” and if an individual places their finger on the camera flash and takes a picture, the app can show hemoglobin levels in the blood. This simple process can allow individuals with blood disorders manage their chronic disease. Moreover, asthma, a disease that affects 25 million people in the US can be diagnosed with the microphone on smartphones by listening to breath sounds. People are becoming their own medical detectives with this new era of smartphones. 10 years ago, the only way to find out many of these vital signs was to visit a licensed health professional. Now, it can be done and stored at the tip of our fingers.

Are Doctor’s Jobs Becoming Easier?

The life of a doctor consists of information. A lot of information. Patient information, charts, previous medical history, and medications. Before technological advances, everything was on paper. Now, almost all hospitals across the United States rely on online databases to store patient information. However, in many hospitals, physician’s still write down notes about their appointments with patients. They write down symptoms, conditions, and other things reported by the individual to the physician. Recently, “scribes” have been introduced into the health field. Scribes are people who follow doctors, surgeons, or general practitioners around with tablets and keep a digital tab of what the patient is describing to the doctor or vice versa.

The article “A Busy Doctor’s Right Hand, Ever Ready to Type” discusses the fact that over 70% of hospitals in the United States now employ medical scribes. Dr. Sinsky, a primary care provider in Iowa states that “the patients get undivided attention from the physicians.” However, she failed to mention that 10% of patients that were surveyed about having a scribe shadowing their physician felt uncomfortable with another individual in their appointment. Would it be awkward to have someone who is a stranger to you listen to your answers to all of the questions that the doctor is asking you? One of the main aims of the healthcare system is to assure quality care. If any patients are not happy, are the scribes beneficial or harmful? Sure, maybe the job of a doctor is not to be a secretary, but it remains their job to perform in a way that the patient feels most secure.

Pediatrician is Calling: Answer with Skype Video

There is no stronger relationship than that of a mother and her child. Unfortunately, numerous babies are whisked away after birth to be put in the NICU to receive necessary treatment. Because doctors are usually giving round the clock care to these infants, the mothers usually receive little or delayed information regarding the status of their newborn. However, a recent study called “Testing the Feasibility of Skype and FaceTime Updates with Parents in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit” discusses how doctors Skype the mothers of the babies in the NICU during rounds. Almost all of the women who participated in the study were happy with this idea and felt a stronger sense of communication with their doctor. The comfort of the mothers to Skype their doctors was definitely stated, however, it could be a different scenario if the pediatrician on Skype was someone they had never met before.

To Trust or Not To Trust A Virtual Doctor

I have been seeing the same doctor since I was 7 years old. I can say without a doubt that I trust her medical advice more than anyone else. A large portion of families in the United States have been seeing the same primary care physician for many years. In order to best illustrate the reality of having a “virtual doctor,” I added a video from PBS Hour called “Telemedicine Puts a Doctor Virtually at Your Bedside” to the collection of sources regarding a new web services called Doctors on Demand. In short, it is a website that allows you to video chat with a licensed physician in order to receive quick medical advice. The success rates for the website are high, but it is hard to believe that individuals are able to trust an individual who knows nothing of their prior medical history. If a doctor on the web service diagnoses a patient, they can have prescriptions sent to the patient’s local pharmacy. The question of whether or not it is safe to take medical advice and take prescription drugs that they recommend is valid. Yes, it is more convenient to open up your laptop and press the call button rather than drive thirty minutes to the doctors office. But, is the outcome the same?

Can You Trust Yourself to Get Help?

There are positives and negatives to replacing actual doctors visits with virtual medicine. The upsides to using virtual resources for medical care are increased convenience and decreased cost. The downsides of virtual medicine can be misdiagnosis and the progression of health issues. The article “Think You’re Healthy? 5 Reasons You Should See Your Doctor Anyway” suggests that even though we may think we are healthy, we should still go to the doctor. There is a reason medical school takes a total of eight years, so how can we expect ourselves to be qualified to use our phones to diagnose and treat ourselves? On the contrary, if our phones are accurately measuring our vitals, why not do it ourselves? Whether the good outweighs the bad in this situation is in the hands of the individual. As technology advances further, we will have more and more choices to make about whether or not we need to visit the doctor or not.

The Future of Medicine

Sure, it might seem like all these technology advances like MRIs and X-ray machines are nitty and gritty compared to the flying cars that we all thought would be here by now. But, the next few decades are predicted to be groundbreaking for medical technology. A TedTalk called “The Wireless Future of Medicine” by leading cardiologist Eric Topol highlights the intense projects in medicine that are in the works. From band-aid like skin patches that measure calorie intakes to internal devices that measure insulin levels, medicine is going to transform immensely.

In my mind, I compare this to the Industrial Revolution. What were once factories manned by thousands of people are now self sufficient and require little attention. With discussion of such projects being in the works, I cannot help but imagine that the demand for doctors may be nonexistent in the future. Every type of technology malfunctions, but then again, malpractice happens with doctors as well. The real question is: is society better off with our diseases and illnesses being managed by brainless and faceless entities? There is no clear cut criteria that tells us which way we are better off, only time will tell.