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  • Writer's pictureSherry

Humans & Technology Meet-up with Dr. Kevin Fickenscher

As we navigate through 2019, there are intensifying changes and disruption in many industries along with an avalanche of new information every day. It is hard to keep up with this and digest it all. This disruption is clearly happening in healthcare and following my interview with Dr. Kevin Fickenscher, I am hopeful and less weary. It means a robust intersection with technology and in the case of our own health care, I am hopeful that ultimately we will have the benefit of better information and care.  

A long-time friend, from my Baxter Healthcare days connected me to Dr. Kevin Fickenscher, a pioneer in bringing technology to medicine. He has a fascinating and deep expertise in academics, large healthcare systems, start-ups, leading tech companies, and now transforming how we educate doctors in the age of diagnostics with AI and Machine Learning.

Kevin is known as the thought leader and strategist who “stirs things up.” I wanted to hear more about how he sees change coming.

Sherry Benjamins: Where are you seeing innovation today?

Dr. Kevin: There is significant change from applications and process change, to infrastructure and adoption of entirely new technologies. There is change in how, what and where we receive care and it is challenging the way we think about the delivery of services in the future. All industries are impacted but I would say healthcare is experiencing more dramatic disruption because society demands more value today with reduced cost. A significant driver of this change in the last three years has been AI and Machine Learning. Just think about hands-free driving and Siri and how far that has gone. In healthcare we see diagnostics being transformed. In one example, there are physicians at Stanford who are teaching computers how to diagnose skin cancers. That is just one of many innovations utilizing machine learning.

Sherry: How has this changed the life of the Physician?

Dr. Kevin: The new systems are offering “clinically augmented intelligence” with physicians having access to information that was not available before. It changes processes that have been in place for decades. In times of change, we tear things apart before we put them back together. That is where we are today and the pace of change is impacting how we use tools, data and information.

Sherry: You are known to stir things up – tell me about that?

Dr. Kevin: I provoke thought and action. There are some people resisting changes even in light of all of the new possibilities coming at us. It will leave them in an old and non-competitive place. Or, for those embracing change, there will be incredible learning and growth for patients and clinicians. As a metaphor for this change, think about a tsunami. The tsunami wave is a result of disruption in the middle of the ocean. When it gets close to shore, you can’t stop it and will cause mass destruction…or in this case disruption. This process started a decade ago and now we see entire change in processes and traditions as well as how we teach and prepare clinicians in healthcare.

Sherry: What is being done to prepare the new breed of healthcare leader in this age of disruption?

Dr. Kevin: Training - we are training in areas that did not exist before. We are seeing the emergence of virtual diagnosis, remote care delivery and the creation of virtual communities. I call this “virtualist” training. The elements of this include; AI, machine learning, social immersion, and managing of virtual teams. Remote care delivery requires new operational guidelines, new curriculum for physicians, and a new way to communicate with other humans about their care.

Sherry: What will be essential for the new leader in this augmented world?

Dr. Kevin: They must be given the technology and development across disciplines. Collaboration skills and working in teams remotely or virtually will be critical. Skills and knowledge and analysis capabilities will grow. Organizations will be “learning empowered” and not hierarchical any longer.

Sherry: What concerns you about the human and machine interaction?

Dr. Kevin: At the end of the day, the potential loss of human touch concerns me. A caring voice and empathetic smile will be essential. As we embrace the power of this new technology, we need to embrace the emotional intelligence of those using the technology. At first glance, it is possible that we as Physicians will be holding the knowledge rather than being empathetic. This is a critical element of our new role that means we must retain the human side of our work even in light of the machine supporting us.

Sherry: Are you optimistic about the future of healthcare?

Dr. Kevin: Always. I am known as the optimist and was seen that way even in medical school. We will get through this immense change and move forward using virtual, collaborative, and human touch with the goal of managing and delivering care in new and evolving ways. I am now being asked to consult with medical schools in order to re-design curriculum for Physicians embarking on the new age of “augmented clinical care.”

It could not be a more exciting time to participate real-time in preparing the next generation of physician leader in the revolution of telehealth, telecare and telemedicine.

Dr. Kevin Fickenscher is frequently called upon to speak on issues related to the future of the hospital industry, networking and diversification of local health care systems, the applications of technology to primary care, future scenarios on the delivery of health care in the United States, the impact of the global economy on health care, and a host of other related topics.

Conclusion by Sherry

Automation has arrived in healthcare and in the workplace. Whether it is an algorithm that figures out our tasks or encourages our behavior in specific ways, technology is invading our space. While it seems systems have advanced, the “human element” needs to speed up. Dr. Kevin addresses that in his suggestion to build EQ and the human side of patient care while we ask computers to do more.

We now have the opportunity to design new operating principles with a human focus. In the newly released 2019 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends Report, there is a very interesting framework presented that outlines the social enterprise and its operating principles. Workers still want a sense of purpose, to be trusted, know that the organization is ethical and that personal relationships move us further than digital ones. Fortunately, we will always look to the human for creating meaningful connections at work. If you find a robot to do that, let me know!

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