Computers continue to degrade productivity instead of improving productivity

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: lawrence@krubner.com

As an aside, the German courts seem to produce less false imprisonment than Anglo-Saxon courts, in part thanks to the Schöffen, the lay jurists. I suspect that the medical profession would be greatly improved by a combination of Schöffen and doulas, who could work out a great many patient issues without needing to escalate issues to the attention of a doctor.

Interesting and a sad commentary of the failure of both the tech world and corporate management:

Burnout seemed to vary by specialty. Surgical professions such as neurosurgery had especially poor ratings of work-life balance and yet lower than average levels of burnout. Emergency physicians, on the other hand, had a better than average work-life balance but the highest burnout scores. The inconsistencies began to make sense when a team at the Mayo Clinic discovered that one of the strongest predictors of burnout was how much time an individual spent tied up doing computer documentation. Surgeons spend relatively little of their day in front of a computer. Emergency physicians spend a lot of it that way. As digitization spreads, nurses and other health-care professionals are feeling similar effects from being screen-bound.

Sadoughi told me of her own struggles—including a daily battle with her Epic “In Basket,” which had become, she said, clogged to the point of dysfunction. There are messages from patients, messages containing lab and radiology results, messages from colleagues, messages from administrators, automated messages about not responding to previous messages. “All the letters that come from the subspecialists, I can’t read ninety per cent of them. So I glance at the patient’s name, and, if it’s someone that I was worried about, I’ll read that,” she said. The rest she deletes, unread. “If it’s just a routine follow-up with an endocrinologist, I hope to God that if there was something going on that they needed my attention on, they would send me an e-mail.” In short, she hopes they’ll try to reach her at yet another in-box.

As I observed more of my colleagues, I began to see the insidious ways that the software changed how people work together. They’d become more disconnected; less likely to see and help one another, and often less able to. Jessica Jacobs, a longtime office assistant in my practice—mid-forties, dedicated, with a smoker’s raspy voice—said that each new software system reduced her role and shifted more of her responsibilities onto the doctors. Previously, she sorted the patient records before clinic, drafted letters to patients, prepped routine prescriptions—all tasks that lightened the doctors’ load. None of this was possible anymore. The doctors had to do it all themselves. She called it “a ‘stay in your lane’ thing.” She couldn’t even help the doctors navigate and streamline their computer systems: office assistants have different screens and are not trained or authorized to use the ones doctors have.

“You can’t learn more from the system,” she said. “You can’t do more. You can’t take on extra responsibilities.” Even fixing minor matters is often not in her power. She’d recently noticed, for instance, that the system had the wrong mailing address for a referring doctor. But, she told me, “all I can do is go after the help desk thirteen times.”

Jacobs felt sad and sometimes bitter about this pattern of change: “It’s disempowering. It’s sort of like they want any cookie-cutter person to be able to walk in the door, plop down in a seat, and just do the job exactly as it is laid out.”

Sadoughi felt much the same: “The first year Epic came in, I was so close to saying, ‘That’s it. I’m done with primary care, I’m going to be an urgent-care doctor. I’m not going to open another In Basket.’ It took all this effort reëvaluating my purpose to stick with it.”

…Last fall, the night before daylight-saving time ended, an all-user e-mail alert went out. The system did not have a way to record information when the hour from 1 a.m. to 1:59 a.m. repeated in the night. This was, for the system, a surprise event. The only solution was to shut down the lab systems during the repeated hour. Data from integrated biomedical devices (such as monitoring equipment for patients’ vital signs) would be unavailable and would have to be recorded by hand. Fetal monitors in the obstetrics unit would have to be manually switched off and on at the top of the repeated hour.

Medicine is a complex adaptive system: it is made up of many interconnected, multilayered parts, and it is meant to evolve with time and changing conditions. Software is not. It is complex, but it does not adapt. That is the heart of the problem for its users, us humans.

To some extent, the problem is that an industrial process is being applied in a world that is still much more art than science. This is an inaccurate summary:

But those processes cannot handle more than a few change projects at a time. Artisanship has been throttled, and so has our professional capacity to identify and solve problems through ground-level experimentation. Why can’t our work systems be like our smartphones—flexible, easy, customizable? The answer is that the two systems have different purposes. Consumer technology is all about letting me be me. Technology for complex enterprises is about helping groups do what the members cannot easily do by themselves—work in coördination. Our individual activities have to mesh with everyone else’s. What we want and don’t have, however, is a system that accommodates both mutation and selection.

There are many ways to get groups to work in coördination. Having a good project manager in place is my preferred method. But this project manager then becomes her own small base of power. She gets in the way of consolidating power upwards, to the top of the hierarchy. I believe this is a good thing, but those at the top of the hierarchy view it as a bad thing.

Source