This morning as I was driving home from the gym, I spotted a family out walking together. There was a man, a woman, a baby in the stroller and two other children about 9 or 10 years old. It was a beautiful day for a walk. The sun was shining, the birds singing, and the park they were passing was picturesque. The entire scene could have been from a Norman Rockwell painting, except for one thing. Everyone except the baby was focused on his or her smart phone. There was no human interaction between the members of the group, just virtual encounters with others who were not physically present. What I noticed was that the baby was the only one taking in the sights. He was bright eyed, looking around and taking in his surroundings with curiosity. He looked truly happy while his walking companions were all expressionless and moving ahead as if in a trance.
Technology, for all its wonderful benefits, can be a huge disruption of human contact. Smart phones, computers and iPads help us stay connected, but at the same time, take our attention away from the physical environment and the people in that environment. Although the example I just cited was a social situation, there are dozens of similar missed opportunities every day in healthcare that impact the patient experience. The doctor walks into the exam room with his eyes glued to his smart phone or laptop. The nurse enters the room and walks directly to the computer. Sure, they are attending to the medical record which is important, but it’s also important to make the human connection in order to engage with the patient, and demonstrate that he/she is important.
The bottom line is that our attention is a valuable and limited resource. How we spend it each and every moment makes a difference. Giving your full attention to another sends a message that the other person is important – that they matter. At the end of the day, will you feel more fulfilled from your text messages and emails, or from the moments you looked someone in the eye, or focused more fully on your surroundings?