Healthcare Automation: High Tech vs. High Touch

Throughout my different careers, I’ve been fascinated with the relationship between man and machine.

In the 1980s, I worked extensively on the factory floor of automobile manufacturing plants as an automation sensor specialist. Within these large-scale manufacturing facilities, there were literally tens of thousands of different sensors used for everything from detecting small parts on a subassembly line to protecting workers from large pieces of moving equipment. Both man and machine existed together within that very complex environment to produce vehicles.

During that time, the average education level of an automotive factory worker was 9th grade. As vehicle manufacturing became increasingly complex, aided by the increased use of industrial computers known as PLCs, it became challenging for the factory worker to remain a relevant part of an increasingly automated world.

In the late 1980s, new interactive technologies called Man-Machine Interfaces (MMIs) or Human-Machine Interfaces (HMIs) were introduced. These were nothing more than computers equipped with large touch screens that informed the automotive factory worker about what was occurring in the manufacturing process. However, they enabled human command and control of these processes—the manufacturing information displayed on the MMIs and HMIs had been distilled and displayed at a level that was understandable and useful to the factory worker.

For those of us working in healthcare technologies, there is a valuable lesson to be learned about the expectations we have for patient engagement and utilization. When introducing any new type of technology-enabled care to a specific user group, we must start by recognizing and meeting the patient where they are presently.

Unfortunately, this is multi-dimensional issue, a complex matrix of diverse and ever-changing influences and motivations that family and professional caregivers must attempt to understand in order to reduce costs and improve quality of life for those in their care.

Throughout the coming year we will dissect and discuss some common challenges that arise when providing technology-enabled care to our aging population.