Digital Consultant Leeds

Technology and relationships hand in hand, can we digitise healthcare without losing the human touch? | Paul Featherstone


Technology and relationships hand in hand, can we digitise healthcare without losing the human touch?


My wife and I are expecting our first child in November, it’s an exciting time but also a little scary. Any parents reading this post will likely recall similar feelings when they had their first child, you will also likely remember the importance of having a support network around you.

Support from family and friends is key, as is the wealth of support available from public and professional healthcare providers and advice groups. After we attended an excellent support session with parents to be yesterday, I started to consider the implications of further technology adoption on these valuable opportunities for human interaction as we reach these healthcare related milestones in our lives.

Enhance relationships don’t replace

The first key point is that I believe trying to replace human interaction with technology is fundamentally the wrong approach to take. Technology and digitisation of traditional processes and information should enhance human relationships not replace them. Until we have developed artificial intelligence, technology cannot and should not adopt this role.

I believe that creating layers of technology which distance the patient or user of a health service from human contact will alienate those users and erode the huge value provided by healthcare professionals.

Automation or relation?

So relationships and human interaction are important. But let’s not play down the increasingly valuable role that digital technology is playing in healthcare. How then can technology and human relationships work hand in hand?

As a health service user there are needs I have which require a human conversation and some which don’t. I am a very heavy user of digital services and will always select digital communications rather than paper if given a choice.

There are two variables for me as a user which need to be considered:

1) Automation or relation – will a conversation and/or the ability to build human relationships add value when meeting the need the user/patient has?

Think about the following examples:

The childbirth support group I attended yesterday was such a valuable session because my wife and I are building relationships with other parents as well as sharing ideas and honestly debating our hopes, fears and plans for the birth. Could this be done online?

Email is used to share information online and we have a social media group to support another session we attended. This works well for me as it blends the best of human interaction with technology, the most important needs are met face to face but technology plays a valuable role in helping quickly and efficiently share and distribute information and contact details.

When it comes to our various hospital appointments, the whole process is paper, telephone and fax based, no digital communications are offered.

Sending an email rather than a letter confirming an appointment is okay by me, I don’t derive value out of a conversation about an appointment time. This is a low value human interaction with someone who I do not intend to build a relationship with.

2) Choice of transaction – for points of interaction with users which can be automated using digital technology, has a choice been provided?

Can a patient choose to receive their appointment straight to their mobile via text or do they have to use paper? I tend to refer to these types of interaction as more transactionally based.

Digital health and technology professionals should consider carefully which parts of the process can be digitised as they are automation interactions not relationship based.

The changing role of healthcare professionals

If we use digital technology to replace the dull stuff and support more time and resources being diverted to allowing human interactions and relationships to occur then we have an added benefit.

We create a healthcare model where humans are using the best of their skills with other humans. We move from letter stuffers to communicators and carers of exceptional quality, the quality which we experience on a regular basis in the UK through the NHS and the many support groups and charities which exist.

Digitisation and technology will present new opportunities

As well as enhanced experience for users, patients and staff working in healthcare, there will also be a redefinition of the care options available. Subscribe to my blog as I’ll be writing about this soon.

Please do also share your thoughts below, how do you think we can improve healthcare through technology and digitisation whilst building and enhancing human relationships?

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All opinions are my own.

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