Planning a digital future with humanity

Embracing high-tech tools without diminishing the crucial need for the human touch

Letter from the Dean

You can Google your symptoms, Skype your worried mom and Uber to the hospital, but you might have to ask your doctor to fax your medical records.

Technology has dramatically changed our lives — from the way we learn, to the way we communicate, to the way we travel. But when it comes to our health care, progress has been uneven.

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)

However, that’s changing. With Stanford Medicine at the vanguard, the digital transformation of health care is underway. And we’ve embraced this transformation in every regard — identifying “digitally driven” as one of three pillars in the new integrated strategic plan that will inform and guide our strategy for the future of Stanford Medicine. 

One sign of the times is that more and more physicians are embracing electronic communications and finally junking the fax machine, a central recommendation of Stanford Medicine’s recent white paper on the future of electronic health records. 

Based on the input of industry experts who spoke at our EHR National Symposium and hundreds of physicians who participated in our Harris Poll survey, this white paper outlines what it will take to make EHRs the backbone of an information revolution in health care. Learn more in this issue of Stanford Medicine magazine and read the white paper in full at

I’m a strong proponent of fixing what’s broken about EHRs because I believe they have game-changing potential. Amy Jeter Hansen’s story shows some of these possibilities, such as how EHRs can help diabetic patients manage their blood sugar levels and NICU workers manage phototherapy for preterm babies with jaundice.

Of course, the great hope of these new digital tools also comes with the risk that health care will lose something essential in the process — the human touch. In her story, Tracie White shares four ways that we at Stanford Medicine are pioneering advances that are high-tech as well as high-touch. Google Glass headsets are helping children with autism learn to read emotions and facial expressions. Stanford’s MyHeart Counts app is prompting people to get moving. Holograms are helping surgeons remove breast tumors with greater precision. And an e-curriculum is teaching basic health care skills to people in remote areas of Haiti and India.

But it’s not only our patient care mission that technology is upending. The way we train future physicians, many of whom have never seen a paper chart, is also changing. Don’t miss Ruthann Richter’s story about an artificial intelligence technology, developed in part by a remarkable high school student participating in an internship program here at Stanford, that may revolutionize how we teach surgeons by establishing a best-practices curriculum as well as providing real-time feedback.

I’m inspired by this issue, and I think you will be inspired, too. The future of health — proactive and personalized care — is a future that will be made possible by a revolution in digital technology. And it’s happening here at Stanford Medicine.


Lloyd Minor, MD

Carl and Elizabeth Naumann Dean of the School of Medicine

Professor of Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery