The world is changing fast with smartphones in the hands of adult weathered labourers and small kids playing Minecraft relentlessly in an addictive craving fashion. It changes us all. ‘They’ warn us that the digital revolution will interrupt everything that we are used to. Now they tell us, as ‘Hippocratised’ Doctors that the digital revolution will change the world of medicine the way we know it: Off course it does, and we all send medical photos with the same liberty as we swapped stickers and ‘ruilkaarte’ (swap cards) in the eighties. Ninety-year-old patients Uber to the hospital and patients Google their specialists before they meet them. Students don’t conquer text books anymore before their College Finals, but become streetwise with the most concise summaries available on the internet.
But just as everything feels like it’s changing, some things, especially in Medicine, simply has to remain constant. Will the digital revolution threaten the world of art or music? Can Artificial Intelligence create another Mona Lisa or produce songs better than Sting? Similarly, the digital revolution will never replace the Art of Medicine.
For instance, we have to recognise and praise the geniuses (or protégé artists) in medicine. We all know them. They have worked hard, sacrificed a lot over decades and relentlessly overcame personal battles to achieve a state of complete skilful execution of their speciality in the same comfort that the newspaper deliverer tosses the paper over the fence in the perfect spot whilst cycling. It is the anaesthetist that puts the sick patient to sleep and wakes them up pain-free in managing the most complicated cardio-vascular variables. It is the Physician that looks at the Full Blood Count of the 25 year old with malaise and directs a subtle Iron deficiency anaemia to testicular cancer. It is the young Urologist that executes the prostatectomy of the morbid obese patient with the utmost ease with the Da Vinci robot. It is the Radiologist that picks up Metastatic Cancer on a routine ultrasound for Tennis Elbow.
South Africa is blessed with so many of these Artists in Medicine. The system and the way to the top is brutal and very few will reach it. The digital revolution, nor Artificial Intelligence, will ever change this. The necessary training path and experience, as hard as it is in the South African context, could not be simplified to achieve this status. The surgeon has to cut and cut over and over again to train those neural pathways to achieve cutting excellence. The three-dimensional tri-angulation in arthroscopical and endoscopical surgery does not come over night: it takes millions of new synapses between different parts of the brain to achieve the slick subtle economical movements of the intrinsic and extrinsic muscles of the hand.
Medicine remains an Art. Yet, the Digital revolution changes ‘all’ and cannot be ignored. Is there a happy medium? Yes there is! Doctors in my mind are uniquely wired. They just want to do their work well and circumstances must facilitate it. Whether it means Wi-Fi in their rooms, aircon in theatre or software to simplify daily tasks. And here-in lies the sweet spot. Welcome the digital revolution in order to structure and coordinate your practice. Ensure sustainability of your practice by having an online presence and slick corporate identity so you remain relevant. Make use of proper diary smartphone logistical systems to organise your day and record clinical medical records with ease. Embrace technology to make you a better doctor and keep on practising your art.
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