Tech-tonic shift

Sept. 23, 2019

It’s a pleasure to pontificate.

With all due respect to noteworthy science fiction author Ray Bradbury in adapting his famous opening line to Fahrenheit 451, many of us enjoy predicting and thinking about the future.

Three decades ago in the early 1990s I wrote a story about the possibility of robots handling sterile processing duties in SPD. Even though the prose may have raised a few eyebrows and fomented somewhat meaningful but mostly whimsical discussion, the opinions were valid and valuable. Alas, however, the idea remains snugly nestled in fiction. The story actually pinpointed 2023 as a pivotal year. Of course, that’s nearly four years ahead so perhaps anything can happen as there’s still time!

But think about it for a moment. What have been some of the more monumental cultural developments? Well, Apple launched the iPhone 12 years ago, programming us to carry around a telephone and upgrade it as frequently as we send representatives to the lower chamber of Congress; so-called “social media” has redefined how we communicate for better and for worse; and thanks to Amazon, many retail, grocery and food service businesses now offer near-immediate-to-next-day delivery for just about everything.

Imagine if a hospital’s Supply Chain department could mimic something like Door Dash? Missing a syringe? Supply Chain Sally will ship it to you in 60 seconds!

The old saw stresses that healthcare trails other industries when it comes to operations and processes, just like the little robotic “pet” tug that carries stuff as it follows you around via waist-belt-worn sensor. Yes, such tech exists; I watched it and photographed it at the ProMat 2019 show back in April that caters to logistics and material handling technology for manufacturing and supply chain.

From automated guided vehicles that clean floors or transport product bins to colorful carousels that schuss bins on conveyor belts to hovering drones to heads-up display goggles to superhero-like exoskeleton body armor that ergonomically enhances endurance to synchronized robotic arms for picking and packing, the near future for healthcare warehousing entices as much as it intrigues. In fact, consolidated service centers (CSCs) for a number of integrated delivery networks (IDNs) already make use of some of this technology.

While much of this tech motivates awe (and dread) among humans, the question remains as to whether it’s necessary. To do repetitive tasks quickly, safely, securely and accurately that may tax and exhaust humans, yes.

But what  the tech, whether embedded software to wheeled vehicles, lacks, humans possess: Creative thought. Remember that in this day and age, tech really hasn’t evolved to achieve sentience to replicate itself, 3-D printing aside. Humans conjure, create and develop these tools and toys either to do certain jobs more efficiently so the humans can focus their energies elsewhere.

Therein lies the critical nature of humanity – creative thinking. Instead of worrying about how technology might eliminate jobs maybe it’s more important to focus on how to develop, grow and improve creative thinking – something valuable that humans bring to operations and processes.

Until someone creates, develops and mass-markets a software product that independently contains costs or, say, interviews experts and writes coherent stories for trade publications, we all need to hone our creativity to lift patient care to the next level.