Monday, November 4, 2013

Technology Meets Humanism: #AAMC13-Style

Sunday, November 3, 2013, certainly did not disappoint at the AAMC 2013 meeting in Philadelphia.  I had the opportunity to attend many great sessions.  This blog will touch on two of them.

Digital Literacy

The session on digital literacy was as engaging as any I’ve ever attended.  The speakers brought cases from real life to discuss with the participants.  Table exercises provided the substrate for meaningful interaction among people who literally met two minutes ago.  There were some quotes that hit home for the audience.  All come from the speakers, Bryan Vartabedian, Neil Mehta, Warren Wiechmann, and Jennifer Salopek.

“Every provider should be prepared to deal with unsolicited requests via digital media.”

“On public platforms, physicians are under no obligation to respond to solicitations from prospective patients.”

“Patients put their trust in us, and it is our obligation to educate them in real and digital environments.”

“We are in the age of the public physician.  We need to function in this new environment.”

This session really hit home for me, as I realized that there are great folks studying this new field, which itself is moving as fast as a teenager’s thumbs on a smartphone texting a friend!

The group launched an extremely helpful resource toolkit for digital literacy, found here. This toolkit is a work in progress, but marks an important step for those educators who need help in teaching the future generation.

How Doctors, Nurses and Consumers Can Make One Another Better

This session was a real treat, as the speaker was Anna Quindlen, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author.  She spoke with no slides whatsoever (what a concept at a medical conference!).  However, one could hear a pin drop in the room (which required an overflow room to accommodate all those who wanted to hear her speak).  Anna spoke from the heart about real-life interactions with the medical profession, some of which shed a light on the humanism that still exists in medicine, and others which provided, well, simply put, an “opportunity for improvement” regarding communication interactions with patients and families.  Given my interest in using emerging technology in medicine and medical education, I really loved these comments (paraphrased here):

 “There is no technology that can take the place of humanism; despite technological advances, human touch is more necessary than ever before.”  

And this one, reflecting on her own work as a writer, was truly profound: 

“In the drama of my own body, I have become both the story and the reporter.”

I think the session can best be summed up from this statement by the moderator, Richard Levin: 

“We must keep the ‘care’ in healthcare.”  

Yes, we must!  Anna, thank you for sharing your stories with me and so many others.

I think these two sessions provided a perfect intersection between the need to “push technology” while still “going back to the basics” of humanism in medicine.  Lest those who feel technology is obliterating the human connection, I would tend to disagree: the lunchtime discussion with the digital literacy speakers demonstrated to me that we can have both humanism AND technology together. 

Yes, we can have our cake AND eat it too!


  1. Thanks for the great post! Phil

  2. Morning Alex
    I put this blog on the front page of, because it carries an important message.

    thanks, and enjoy the Philly cheesesteaks. I went to Med School in Philly.

    John Bennett MD