Culture lag: this is why medical technology is straining our clinicians

Authored by: CalmWave 

The healthcare industry may be advanced in many ways, but is also notoriously behind when adopting a number of newer digital technologies that consumers are used to in their everyday lives. From digital records to modern interfaces to mobile technology to (artificial intelligence-based) automation, healthcare has always been a few steps behind. One of the most obvious challenges in healthtech adoption is that of electronic health records (EHR) or electronic medical records (EMR). Why are clinicians opposed to innovative medical technologies like EMR systems? It’s a question that many people have pondered in recent years as studies like this one from Stanford Medicine demonstrate that 60% of physicians think that EMR systems need to be overhauled. It seems intuitive that technological improvements, especially ones that replace ‘outdated’ handwritten medical charting, are widely beneficial. Yet the clinicians who are actually using the technology day-in and day-out don’t seem to agree. This dissonance is not uncommon in human society, and it results from something known as ‘culture lag.’ 

Definition of Culture Lag

  1. (noun) The period of time between the introduction of new technological developments (material culture) into a culture or society and the acceptance of the developments in that culture or society.

Culture lag is a sociological phenomenon that describes how a change in one part of a cultural pattern may create strain in closely related parts of the same cultural pattern. These changes are usually due to the introduction of technology within society. For example, introducing improved technology aimed at helping patients in a hospital disturbs current workflows and puts strain on the physicians who have to implement and utilize the new technology. Although adjustments will eventually be made to restore harmony, there will always be a lag time during which such tension persists. Ultimately, it takes a while for society to ‘catch up’ to the novelty of technological advancement. 

Healthcare is different.   

Healthcare is slow to adopt new technologies for many reasons with one underlying theme: their systems are complex. Clinical activity is very chaotic. Patients are unpredictable. Budgets are limited. And human lives are at risk. It’s no wonder the level of pushback that medical technology receives from the clinician community. Clinicians ultimately want the best for themselves and their patients, but the list of reasons why it’s hard to implement new innovative tech is long. The healthcare industry has increasingly been the focus of many new startups and investors, and there is a general frustration with how challenging and slow this space can be.  “Let’s bring outsiders with new tech to disrupt and come fix things,” is a common perspective. If only it were that easy. This is a naive perspective that undermines the efforts of clinicians and current healthtech innovators while underestimating the challenges preventing new innovations from taking hold, leaving historical issues that plague our healthcare system.

A new perspective.

Going back to Stanford’s study on EMR perception by clinicians, we need to shift our focus. Rather than assuming that clinicians simply refuse or are opposed to EMR systems, a culture lag perspective urges us to think critically about what strains EMR systems are imposing on clinicians that may hinder their ability to fully integrate and utilize the novel technology. Studies have demonstrated that excessive data entry, difficulty navigating the systems, a lack of user-friendly interfaces, and inability to integrate with other systems lead clinicians to increased burnout and dissatisfaction with their jobs. Burnout and dissatisfaction are significant disturbances to one’s efficiency and they should not be ignored. What would happen if we fixed the EMR system issues that clinicians mention? Simply put, doctors, nurses, and other healthcare providers would be happier, healthier, and more efficient because groundbreaking medical technology would be properly integrated and utilized. 

Success requires a more comprehensive approach.

Technology itself is not the issue here. Society will always strive for the ‘next best way’ that technology can aid in the health of humans, but it’s HOW and with WHOM in mind the technology is created that is the problem. Technology companies need to implement user-centered design approaches, in which healthcare professionals are actively involved in the design process, and user experience testing is conducted to ensure that technology is easy to use and meets the needs of the people who will be using it. While culture lag is inevitable, the severity of the disturbances that it produces can be greatly reduced if technology is created more holistically so that it can integrate better into existing workflows and benefit both the user and recipient. 

Successful technology integration involves understanding the full value chain. Observing the current state of clinician workflows and identifying major gaps is critical. From there, understanding the desired state is key, and it may be radically different from what was first implemented. Is it clinically focused? Economically focused? What are the standards? What about key strategic initiatives? No matter how great technology is, it has to both solve a core issue while considering the stakeholders that will support its adoption. This requires feedback from clinicians (users), patients (ultimate beneficiaries), implementers (IT, clinical informatics, safety, biomed, quality, etc), and administrators (CXO, purchasing, management). Comprehensive cycles of feedback and user testing will help close the gap between advanced technology and its successful integration into the healthcare system, thus reducing the effects of culture lag. 

New Tech. Different Approach. Aiming for a better result.

CalmWave is a technology company that understands the strain of culture lag. We’re listening and learning from users in the environment to recognize their current challenges including barriers to adoption of new solutions that are available today. Shockingly, much of today’s clever technology isn’t even being utilized in hospitals. And some for good reason. That’s why we’ve created an artificial intelligence-based product that puts clinicians at the forefront of its design. We believe that technology has the power to change healthcare for the better, but only if we address the lowest-hanging fruit of making sure the clinicians who use it are happy and more productive because of it. We’ve assembled (and challenged) a team of doctors and nurses to help us fix the problems that they’ve experienced for years in the hospital. Then we recruited the best data scientists, software developers, and UX designers to implement it. Schedule a demo to learn more about how our technology puts clinicians first to improve the health of our society.