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With March Madness right around the corner I decided to share a recent coaching experience as a metaphor for the current and potential future use of technology in healthcare.
In a recent article Stephen Wilkins, MPH, shared the critical importance of physicians developing relationship and trust with their patients and that there is no technology to replace this authentic human connection.
And yet, many leaders throughout the healthcare system continue to invest in technology to achieve improved patient engagement and outcomes rather than investing in systems change to optimize the healing encounter.
The phenomenon of "attempting to solve healthcare problems by throwing more technology at them" is not new, as Dr. Abdulrahman El-Sayed shared recently. In fact, he notes that to truly improve our healthcare system we must "beat our addiction to technology and to start doing some things the old-fashioned way."
So how does all of this relate to basketball?
As shared in an earlier blog post, I have the privilege of coaching a high school recreation basketball team. A couple of weeks ago I had to travel for business so my assistant coach was leading the team. As I was enjoying a quiet dinner I received the following text:
"Halftime. Us 19 them 20. Timmy (not real name) mad."
Once I realized the text came from my assistant coach's wife and that she would communicate with her husband I responded:
"Tell Timmy he will shoot better when he is relaxed. Also tell him to use his aggression under the boards."
I soon inquired about the other team's defense and called an offensive play.
We continued our texting and I learned of a defensive lapse. No problem. It was corrected with a little encouragement from afar.
More information was shared and I found myself truly engaged in the game and cheering the team on from hundreds of miles away.
Question about an offensive set. No problem. Text.
Team down a bit emotionally. No problem. Text.
And eventually I learned through the wonders of technology that we had won.
But was that the best text I received that night? No. The best text I received actually came after the game and simply said: "Boys loved hearing from you!"
Over the next few days I thought about the lessons that could be extrapolated from this experience and applied to the use of technology in healthcare. And in doing so I realized the authentic connection among my players, assistant coach and me created the climate that allowed for this successful use of technology.
The climate we created includes:
Time - Sharing hundreds of hours together on and off the court
Continuity - Coaching with my assistant for eight years and together coaching eight of our eleven players over multiple years.
Mindfulness - Remaining in relationship to what we are going through at any given time, holding it, honoring it, and befriending it and one another
Presence - Preserving a non-judgmental receptivity to the experience of players, coaches and families alike as on and off court challenges have arisen
Humility - An absolute willingness to abandon preconceived suppositions if information (be it verbal or non-verbal) from a player, family or coach is not in alignment
Empathy - Maintaining an intention to recognize and honor emotions that are being experienced by my players, families and assistant coach
Authentic Relationship - The culmination of all the above in trust, reliance, and belief in one another, our team and our community
Also, through this experience I recognized that without this climate there would not have been an openness to text me initially; I would not have known what was needed and when, or when not to intervene. The players would not have adhered to my instruction from afar, my assistant coach would not have been open to additional insights, and if I did insert myself through the use of technology I could have done harm.
Technology should neither be demonized nor held as the one and only solution to our healthcare challenges. Rather, technology should be leveraged to supplement healing encounters and optimize health outcomes, and courageous adaptive leaders must guard it from being used for any contrary purpose.
Thomas H. Dahlborg, M.S.M., is vice president for strategy and project director for the National Initiative for Children's Healthcare Quality (NICHQ), where he focuses on improving child health and well-being.
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