Digital Physician, Analog Nurse

Digits are fingers. Digits used to represent the “On and Off” logic of computers.

Analog implies continuity.

An oversimplified conception of providers categorizing the schism beween doctors and nurses would go something like this:

  • Doctors are digital in the sense that their work is discrete – the logic of diagnosis and treatment follows lines of thought in accordance with well-defined and discrete knowledge and experience. You have this disease or not. You have this kind of diabetes or not. Thus the (stereotype?) conception of physicians as hands-off and more cerebral, computational and clinical
  • Nurses are analog in that their work is about the curvilinear flows of care. Yes, you have this disease, but the impact on your care isn’t so discrete. Thus the (stereotype?) conception of nurses as hands-on and more practical, compassionate and caring.

A curious note here is that “digital” implies “touch”. Digits are fingers. So one would think that a “digital doctor” would be more hands-on – more High Touch.

There are justifiable reasons for this schism – in fact, it wasn’t meant to be a schism as much as a result of division-of-labor required of surgical procedures, diagnostic logics and ultimately quality care.

But as we enter a time where digital technologies explode the abilities to share medical knowledge, connect with colleagues and design applications which close gaps in the *continuity* of care, we may need to re-visit the schism.

That is, we may see more more cross-pollination, as it were, between the digital physicians and the analog nurses. A flowering of more integrated care.

Notice: I bold-faced *continuity*. That’s the key and vital difference between analog and digital.

Your body – and the thoughts and feelings and experiences it creates – are not digital. They are analog.

We are all becoming more and more digital. Healthcare is (slowly) becoming more and more digital. Physicians are going digital – and so are nurses. (Well, at least slowly).

That’s all cool and great and useful.

But Healthcare must always remain analog. Our fingers may be digital – but they depend on analog brains.

Phil Baumann


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