Saturday, March 5, 2011


In an op-ed piece in the NY Times February 26 (,%20not%20the%20ct%20scan&st=cse), Stanford physician and author Abraham Verghese critiques the use of computers in healthcare.

He sees them as a two-edged sword: marvelous in their capabilities, and at the same time a hazardously distractive presence. He writes, "…the complaints I hear from patients, family and friends are never about the dearth of technology but about its excesses." Its excesses amount to relentless intrusions into the patient-practitioner relationship.

One example is reported by DreamsAmelia, a reader of this blog and author of her own powerful blog, Shelved in Cyberspace ( She writes, "…our nurse…had  her back to us while she filled out a computer screen and asked my daughter to rate her pain--not even making eye contact, let alone holding her hand!" 

You get what she means. You've probably had a similar experience.

We might take this tendency more lightly if it weren't occurring across society. Remember the New Yorker cover around last Hallowe'en? It depicted parents accompanying their trick-or-treating kids. Each parent's face is illuminated by the bluish glow of the cell phones they're consulting. That is, we're relating more and more, day by day, to machines instead of to one another. The "friend" we have in cyberspace is hypothetical compared to the warm, fleshy one we can sit with knee-to-knee, heart-to-heart. And try though we might, we'll never develop a compassionate robot.

Patients aren't the only ones discomforted by medical technomania. I've heard healthcare practitioners complain that hi-tech intrusion is supplanting the human contact that had been the source of joy in their profession.   

If this phenomenon is distressing, we need to do something about it, since if we don't, who will? We can begin by simply saying so, and move on to behave as we feel we should. Change never occurs any other way. As Gandhi advised, "Never do the wrong thing, even if the authorities require it. Always do the right thing, even if the authorities forbid it."

1 comment:

  1. Indeed, the technology is double it divides us from our real-life contacts, it also allows us to create an ultra-idealized arena in cyberspace where we can invite our grandest ideals, and create coalitions of comforting blogs, that may not materialize in the sloppy real world...the eternal "does life imitate art" question.
    But art, writing, reading, blogging, is, for me, the best form of therapy, because, primarily, it is untainted by the icky feeling of money wrapped in paying a psychiatrist $200/hr to hear your problems. I've tried that. I've also tried co-counseling, recognizing that our peers are just as insightful as professionals...because the main thing we are trying to connect is our core humanity, not the pretensions of our degrees and station in life that make us look unequal, when, fundamentally, we are all equal because we all equally face birth, illness, and death.
    We alternate between needing an authority and having the confidence to be our own the support group looked to you to try to veer the one guy into more orthodox treatment, by refusing to do so, it was ultimately immensely more therapeutic because any path in life works only to the extent you are fully engaged in it with all your senses and spirit, with illness, or not.
    _The Confessions of Zeno_, translated from the Italian by Italo Svevo delightfully illuminates the paradox that while his doctor could prescribe a cure for a specific ailment, he could not conversely issue him a certificate of health, which Svevo so longed for, because he felt that would give him the confidence to boldly proceed with all his plans without misgivings.
    No such assurances are ever given, and only by alternately leaning on each other as springboards to find the authority within ourselves to be authentic and genuine, do we ever move from these morasses of confusion created by technology, illness, general pain in life, into more vivid contentment. These blogs help me in real life, just as much as imagine your support groups help the real people in them. Thank you!