The products I work on–digital health coaching–are intended to augment and extend the relationship between live health care professionals and their patients, not replace it. That’s always a tension we have to be careful about. Nobody wants to be replaceable, especially not highly-trained providers who went into medicine to help people.
There is good news for anyone concerned about being replaced by technology. Although we can automate many parts of business (think of the ATM in banking, the kiosk in airport terminals, or avatars for customer service), it still takes a human touch to create a truly meaningful relationship. As humans we can form attachment to inanimate objects, but there is a level of exchange in a person-to-person relationship that is both irreplaceable and essential to our happiness.
One interesting perspective on the need for human involvement in relationships comes from Amanda Palmer. In her memoir, The Art of Asking: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help, Palmer reflects on how she is personally involved in her social media accounts, unlike some other celebrities who outsource that task. Palmer explains:
I could hire help, but not to do the fundamental things that create emotional connections: The making of the art, the feeling-with-other-people at a human level. Nobody can do that work for me–no Internet marketing company, no manager, no assistants. It had to be me.
Likewise, although a digital solution can help patients make decisions about lifestyle changes or support day-to-day behaviors, they cannot replace the provider in connecting on a deep emotional level. As long as human beings have the fundamental need for relatedness, we will also have a need for the live provider to facilitate the connections and accountability that lead to lasting behavior change.