Beyond technology

The importance of the human connection in medicine

Letter from the Dean

At its heart, health care is about a connection — a personal relationship of trust and caring between a patient and a provider.

When that relationship is strong, patients feel understood, and providers feel that their work has meaning. But go to a hospital or clinic today, and you are more likely to see a provider sitting in front of a computer than talking with a patient. Technology is changing the nature of the patient-provider relationship. Though technology has led to dramatic advances in patient care, patients and providers alike sometimes feel that technology is an intrusion, leaving them disconnected and detached from each other.

Lloyd Minor, MD, dean of the Stanford School of Medicine. (Glenn Matsumura photo)
Lloyd Minor, MD, dean of the Stanford School of Medicine. (Photo by Glenn Matsumura)

Concerned about how technology can inadvertently create barriers between patients and providers, Stanford’s Abraham Verghese has led a national movement to renew focus on the physical exam, a dying art that was once regarded as the litmus test of physician quality and vital to patient care. Through the Stanford Medicine 25 program, he and his colleagues have taught hands-on bedside care to a new generation of doctors at Stanford Medicine and to practicing physicians around the world.

But as Abraham sees it, the decline of the bedside exam — with the potential to miss obvious diagnoses — is just one symptom of a much larger problem: the lack of humanism in modern medicine. Patients often struggle to feel a human connection with their providers in a high-tech health-care setting while providers themselves are reporting alarming rates of burnout and depression. To address these challenges to the patient-provider relationship, Stanford Medicine recently launched a new center, Presence: The Art and Science of Human Connection.

Under Abraham’s leadership, Presence seeks to build upon the Stanford Medicine 25 program — fostering research, dialogue and design thinking across Stanford University’s seven schools to produce measurable and meaningful change in the living laboratory of our hospitals and clinics. Drawing on Stanford’s collaborative academic culture, Presence will explore and leverage innovative ideas from a variety of academic fields — everything from comparative literature to environmental engineering. Above all, Presence will define and advocate for the human experience in medicine, for both the patient and the provider.

The new center is part of Stanford Medicine’s larger vision to lead the biomedical revolution in precision health. Instead of a frantic sprint to cure disease after the fact, precision health seeks to prevent disease before it strikes, treating people rather than just treating disease. Bringing the promise of precision health to patients will require the judicious use of technology, focusing on health care that is predictive and preventive, personalized and patient-centered.

Precision health requires both high-tech and high-touch approaches — or, to use the language of Presence, both the art and science of human connection. The patient-provider relationship is not merely an element of health care, it is the essence of health care.


Lloyd Minor, MD

Carl and Elizabeth Naumann Dean of the School of Medicine

Professor of Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery